Saturday, August 29, 2015

Trail Riding with Scott in His Toy

                                            Before                                      After

Some while ago my husband Scott decided he wanted a 4-Wheeler. He asked if I might be interested in riding the mountain trails with him. If my answer were "yes," he would buy a side-by-side ATV. If my answer were "no," he would buy the standard motor-cycle style 4-wheeler.

As you can see, I said "Yes." It was a good answer when he asked me to marry him and it was still a good answer for riding with him in an ATV.

When he first got it, it was what you see in the Before picture -- It had four wheels, two seats with seat belts, roll-bars, a flat bed, head lamps, a steering wheel -- the standard stuff. Turn the man loose with his tools and it's got a roof, a windshield, side rails on the bed, heavy-duty front and rear bumpers, a winch, serious back-up lights, overhead spot-lights, and ways and means of attaching everything you could possible need out back of beyond.

In July, he took it for a shake-down run by himself to see how it did. Last Wednesday he took me with him. (I guess to see how I'd do.)

Everything went fine. We took I-70 west through Idaho Springs then turned off on Chicago Creek Road, a road I'm familiar with because we use it to get to Mount Evans, my second favorite 14er. (If it had a restaurant at the top that made high altitude donuts, it would move ahead of Pike's Peak.) That road is a well-maintained, paved, two-lane highway. We were trailering the Toy behind my husband's pickup. And all was going well.

Our goal, however, was Saxon Mountain, so we turned onto Cascade Creek Road. Well-maintained, not paved. And one-lane. It is curvy, with trees and/or the mountain coming right down to the road's edge on my side and the creek at the bottom of a drop-off on his side. "So," I wondered silently. "What do we do if we meet someone coming the other way?" Backing that truck and trailer down a narrow road with no forgiveness on either side could not be a good idea. And there were no lay-bys.

As it turns out, I never found out what we would do, 'cause nobody came the other way.

We unloaded and buckled up. He set the way-point for where we were starting, consulted his map, and entered the coordinates for the first place he wanted to go into his GPS. It was like space travel will be, set the coordinates and go. Of course with space flight, you won't have to worry about switch-backs or mundane obstacles. You know -- falling rock, streams, downed trees. I figured our way would at least be free of rogue asteroids and meteors.

After our first switch-back we came to this abandoned mine.

Gold was discovered here in 1866. After gold, they discovered silver. So Saxon Mountain is pocked with mines. Most of the mines are collapsed and filled-in vertical shafts. This one goes into the mountain horizontally, at least as far as we could see, looking through the gate. The second structure is across the trail. I believe it housed the stamp mill.
                                             and this was the miner's home-sweet-home.

While doing a bit of research on mining in Colorado I happened onto the website for Mountain Magazine with an article that includes a first-hand account of mining in Colorado's high country in the 1890's from Carl Fulton. It's not long and it's worth taking the time to read, if you're interested in what life was like back then.

We saw a bachelor herd of Mule Deer. They'll soon be seeking the does for fall breeding season, at least the ones who are old enough. There were several spikes with the more mature bucks. We saw Clark's Nutcrackers. They're Corvidae like crows and jays. And I saw my first grouse in the wild, a Dusky Grouse. And, that old standby, the robin.

There were beaucoup chipmunks and little dark-colored squirrels. Sorry, no photos of wildlife. The ATV on that trail was too energetic to allow photography and when we'd stop, the wildlife fled.

In the mountains, it's all about the light.            And just because we're in the back-
               Still photography doesn't do the Aspens           country, that doesn't mean there's no
               justice. Any little breeze sets the leaves            civilization. There were street signs.
               to fluttering, flashing now silver, now

                               The meadows were still sporting their wild flowers.

Indian Paint Brush and Dwarf                       Silvery Lupine        
                              Golden Aster                                                                                  


Ahhhh, but the summit. It's over 11,000 feet. That's where the vistas and wildflowers are breathtaking. Down in the valley -- 3,000 feet down, to be more precise -- is I-70 snaking around to the right. And the buildings and things more to the center of the picture is Georgetown.

A Bristlecone Pine
The yellow blooms are Nodding Groundsel and the pale purple are Alpine Daisy

We came down different trails than we used going up. They were even more extreme. We had one scary, near-rollover which my husband handled by going pale and telling me, "Lean that way!" I responded with "I already am!" We held steady tipped like that for three hours or a fraction of a second. He let the Toy settle itself and we went on our merry way.

It was a 20-mile, six hour trip. I got home exhausted, My arms hurt from holding on. At times it was like shooting the rapids on a river. It was thrilling and I know exactly how Rose Sayer felt on the African Queen.

I learned some very important things. The Toy is both powerful and very stable. My husband is a capable, prudent man, and my life is safe in his hands.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

There Are Days -- another Essay on Editors

Yep, it was a day just like Alexander had. And I'd been looking forward to it -- nay, anticipating it. It was going to be wonderful. I would win the lottery. I would be the teacher's pet. My editor would congratulate me and tell me I had done it. I had written the most perfect YA short story.

If your mother did not read Judith Viorst's Alexander stories to you when you were little or you did not read them to your children when you were big, I must tell you you must. They are wonderful and true and, without a doubt, they are your stories, too. That morning I did not wake up with chewing gum in my hair. I have only one brother and his name is neither Nick nor Anthony. And he hasn't pushed me down in the mud in many years. But that day I understood Alexander's pain.

My daughter, who is also my editor, has been trying to get me to write something YA for a number of years. For those of you out there who are not writers (bless your hearts) YA stands for Young Adult, probably the most salable genre in fiction today.

Because YA fiction needs to be focused on something and someone young adults can relate to, the most obvious element is a young adult protagonist. The Young Adult Library Services Association defines young adults as being between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Wikipedia states that authors and readers of YA literature more generally accept the age parameters as sixteen to twenty-five. 

This year has been the year for me to expand beyond my comfort zone into nonfiction and now YA fiction. I never thought I'd like nonfiction because it's so limiting. I mean the story has to be, you know, true. And I'm here to tell you I have a long history of embellishing true stories, adding a flourish here or there, maybe a bit of embroidery around the cuff. I mean, with a little imagination you can always make a good story better. But I did it a while back.

On to YA fiction. I've always read what is now called YA fiction -- Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, etc. But I write in a somewhat understated way. I have to trust my readers to bring their own intensity to my work. I guess I have never trusted young people to have enough life experience to have their own intensity.

Silly me. It's because they don't have enough life experience that they have not lost their intensity. At my age, I know the sun will rise tomorrow. That having survived the dangers of today and yesterday and the day before that that I will be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow. They don't. Every moment is make or break. Every challenge is world-changing either as the greatest victory or the most abject failure. Intensity is what they do best.

Realizing that does not help. How do I write a fitting intensity? Can I do it in my normal low-key style or must I morph into a slam-bang Marvel Comic Book writer?

Then there's the question of topic. High school dating? No. Werewolves and vampires? Impossible! Super powers? Not likely.

Wait a minute. Super powers. Why not?! My character wouldn't have to be faster than a speeding bullet or able to start fires with her mind or foretell the future. I figured out a super power that I could accept as plausible. Well, not really. But close enough. And Grace liked it when I pitched it to her.

Then a situation that a YA reader could relate to. Yep, got that, too. And I could relate to it. Else how could I write it?

And I wrote it. It was great. Intense. Suspenseful. Engaged all the senses. (Not smell, but teens don't seem to have an effective sense of smell anyway. Think about the gallons of scent teen boys slather themselves with. And it doesn't seem to dissuade teen girls from hanging out with them.)

I was so pleased with myself. I emailed it to my editor and waited for her response. Of course she has a life, so she couldn't read it fast enough. I mean she did it when she could which was not fast enough. But she did. Finally. And called.

"It's not YA," she said. 

Nobody loves me.

Then she added, "It's a good story. Well written. Clean. Flows well."

Everybody hates me.

"If you were reading this story, who would you say was the main character?" she asked.

I didn't have to guess. It was the father.

Think I'll go eat worms.

"The daughter should be the main character," she said.

Editors! Who needs 'em?! 

Obviously I do. Not just to check my spelling and punctuation. Not just identifying continuity problems or pointing out the use of the same action verb too many times. Or passive verbs that should be action verbs. Or eliminating expository writing. Or avoiding non sequiturs. Etc., etc., etc.

I needed her to point out the most painfully obvious error. The daughter should be the main character in a YA short story.


I don't like worms.

I am a writer. I can do this. Rewrite!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My New Hometown

Main Reservoir

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I walk with a group of people I met in a Silver Sneakers exercise class at Carmody Rec Center in my beautiful hometown of Lakewood, Colorado. Main Reservoir is where our walking group walked today. It is 1.9 miles from my house. If you look really closely that's Green Mountain on the horizon.

I wasn't born here and I wasn't raised here, but this is my hometown. I don't have to go anywhere to be in vacation country. The skies are almost always blue. The snow melt water is clear where it's shallow and blue where it's deep.

Where I was born and raised the water was red -- Oklahoma Red Earth red. You can see those red ponds and lakes and creeks and rivers from high in the sky. Now, don't get me wrong. Oklahoma is beautiful, too. In its own way.

Oklahoma's most beautiful feature is its sky. In an Oklahoma wheat field if you lie down on the ground and look straight up, you'll see nothing but sky. No hills. No trees. You can hear red-winged black birds whistling to each other. And if the wheat is ripe enough, you can hear the wind rattle the grains as it sweeps across the field.

Thunder and lightning and gust fronts can bring you rain in Oklahoma. Or not. If there is rain, you can smell it before it falls on you. And in a hot, dry summer, that is the most glorious scent in the world.

If you live in Oklahoma, you go some-where-else when you go on vacation. When I was growing up we went either to Galveston on the Texas Gulf Coast or to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Now I live year-round in the middle of a vacation.

Kountz Lake in Belmar Park

My walking group walked here last Thursday. That's an island out in the middle, favored nesting grounds for Double Crested Cormorants, Snowy Egrets, and Blue Herons. This property was once part of the Bonfils family's estate. They were the Denver Post Bonfils.

The Tuesday before that we were at the Stone House.

                          Chickory Plant                                                           Bear Creek.
               It grows wild at Stone House.                       Bear Creek runs through the park at  
               It's identified as a Noxious Weed,                Stone House. The creek heads up near
               but grind its roots and brew with                  Mt. Evans the highest of the Chicago     
               strong coffee, serve with beignets                 Peaks in the Front Range. Those are
               and you have the taste of New Orleans.        the mountains you can see from Denver.
All this with easy access to an international airport, an excellent ballet company, a Level I trauma hospital, more professional sports teams than I ever imagined possible, the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, nice people who've moved here from all over the world, Starbucks that will soon be serving beer and wine, The Tattered Cover (my second favorite independent bookstore,) and my favorite husband.

What more could I ask for?!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Post without a Point

The doorway into Tiffany's flagship store
New York City

Here's the situation -- I'm a writer, but writing is not enough. A writer has to promote her work and that, somehow, includes promoting herself. According to them -- that is the them that speak at writing conferences and write books about writing -- writers should be on at least three platforms.

Platform? Platform? Like the platform a politician runs on? Like the one that supports your waterbed? Maybe the one that gives you a place to stand on scaffolding? "What kind of platform?" you may well ask. As do I.

Those How-To folks in the writing business mention Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Goodreads, blogging, ad infinitum. Facebook I use to keep up with my family and the friends I really care about keeping up with. Twitter I'm trying, but I take a really engaging photo with my phone then forget to attach it to the corresponding tweet so the tweet makes no sense at all. I keep getting requests from Linkedin and I always honor them, but I don't have the vaguest what to do with them or what they're doing with me. Pinterest is dangerous. It's like YouTube. If I click on it, pretty soon it's dinner time and I haven't written a word or washed the dishes. Goodreads. Now this one I understand. Well, not how it will help promote my writing, but it adds to my already very long list of books I want to read.

That brings us to blogging. This platform I actually like. It gives me a place I can put my flash fiction out there for people to read. And, yes, like most writers, that's why I write -- for people to read. BUT when you put something on your blog it's considered published so you cannot then submit it to most publications or contests.

And I've been busy writing for submission so I haven't had much time to do my blog. I'm trying some travelogues because of the bloggers I admire who do that sort of thing -- Anabel's Travel Blog and my cousin's wife Debbie's blog about their full-time RV living.

You'd think I wouldn't have to tax my writing brain for these. After all I'm just showing and telling. Right? Wrong! Telling, I can do. It's the showing that takes me way too long. I haven't figured out how to get the pictures on the blog page like I want them. Maybe I'm unreasonable in my aspirations or maybe I'm just inept.

But that's not what I come here to talk about.

I read a book once. Actually I've read lots of books and some of them more than once. Anyway -- this book was a travelogue about bathrooms. I tried to look it up on Amazon, but that was a long time ago and it may not have seen a very large distribution.

The Ladies' in that book that stuck in my mind was the one at Tiffany's in New York. (Hence the photo at the top of this post.) The book described an elegant Ladies' Room complete with comfortable couches, elegant mirrors, and an attendant in an anteroom quite separate from the necessaries. Needless to say that Ladies' is on my bucket list, right along side the Aurora Borealis and the Statue of Liberty. Oh, yes, and the Lions out front of the Metropolitan Library in NYC.

Since reading that book I have made a semi-serious study of public facilities. And today, I visited the best one so far in the Denver area.

I took my daughter Grace to the dentist this morning. Any trip to the dentist triggers an uncontrollable urge for chocolate and coffee. The French Press was the best possible outcome for such a morning. Not only do they have wonderful filled chocolate cupcakes and mocha coffee, but their Ladies' is great. It's actually two largish rooms for either gender. They have a changing table for those little ones and grab bars for us older ones. They are clean and have paper products. Two things you expect, but are too often disappointed by their absence.

All this inspired reflections on bathrooms we have known.

Grace remembered the Ladies' Room at the Masonic Temple in Guthrie, Oklahoma. It had an anteroom with comfortable seating, lovely mirrors, and a baby grand piano.

My all-time favorite was the Ladies' at the Magnolia Cafe, a Creole restaurant in Oklahoma City. Unfortunately no longer there. But the memories! The Ladies' Room was a destination in and of itself. There was a huge mural on one wall. A photograph of a bicycle race. Naked men in a bicycle race. Now if that won't make you laugh out loud and bring you back to show your friends, I don't know what will.

Then we both thought of the City Bites burger joints in the Oklahoma City area. Maybe they have them elsewhere. Their Ladies' had one wall that was a one-way window into the restaurant. Those in the dining area couldn't see into the facilities, but those in the facilities had an unobstructed view into the dining area. Talk about a shy bladder! And to be honest. I don't remember noticing if it was clean or not. I only went in there once and I didn't stay.

Hmmmm. I'm not sure this will promote my writing, but I had fun. Now for some lunch and then I'll get back to work. I've got a short story and a book to finish.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Writing Contest

They're gone! My entries for the annual Rose State Writer's Short Course competition are in the mail.

No more editing. No more rewrites. No more thinking and rethinking. Questioning, doubting, second-guessing.

"Heroes," my entry for Flash Fiction is my absolute favorite. It is my way of honoring all those mothers out there who allowed their children to do dangerous things because those things needed to be done. Like my friend Allegra's grandmother who let Allegra's mother take part in the lunch counter sit-ins in Oklahoma City in the late 50's and early 60's.

Flash Fiction is almost poetry. It must tell a whole story in two or fewer pages. That means the writer must use the absolutely, most evocative, right word -- Hemingway's mot juste. The writer must engage the reader's experiences, their sensory memories, their fears, their dreams, and their hopes. And, most importantly, the writer must trust the reader to be willing and able to participate as an involved reader.

"Dead Birds and Broken Bottles," is creative nonfiction -- a new field for me. The trick to creative nonfiction is that it has to be true. Somehow my personal experiences have just never seemed exciting enough or well-plotted without embellishment. Or they were too personal and I was not comfortable being a character in my own story. Or somebody would get their feelings hurt and get mad at me. It wouldn't be safe to accidentally meet them at the local Walmart.

Everyone, no matter where they live, has a weather or natural disaster story. And being from Oklahoma, tornadoes lend a certain excitement to my own memories. Living in a small town offers all kinds of interesting characters. So I had the excitement and the familiar characters for a nonfiction piece. Then the creative part was to turn the factual time-line into a plot.

This particular tornado happened more than half a century ago so most of the characters are dead now and not likely to show up at Walmart. I'm feeling relatively safe in that respect.

Then there's "The Girl in the Reeds." Those of you who know me, know that I am particularly fond of mysteries. Murder mysteries.

Because I am currently working on a follow-up novel to Murder on Ceres, a Science Fiction/Murder Mystery, I didn't want to take time away from it to spend days and weeks on a murder mystery for this competition. I decided to write a murder mystery short story.

Keeping in mind that Murder on Ceres started out as a short story, this was a dangerous undertaking. I didn't know if I could write a mystery in short story form. Short stories are generally 7,500 or fewer words. I'd written short stories before, but not murder mysteries. The question was could I construct an interesting puzzle and solve it within that number of words.

And, you know what? I did. (Here insert a vision of a white-haired sexagenarian doing a happy dance, whilst humming the Theme from Rocky.)

I am excited. I am pumped. Look out, Oklahoma. I'm on my way!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Everything Matters

image from

When you write, everything matters.

I just finished – and that’s the wrong word – three pieces to submit to the RoseState Writing Short Course competition. Dead Birds and Broken Bottles for nonfiction. The Girl in the Reeds for short fiction, and Heroes for flash fiction.

What? No poetry? No. No poetry. My poetry days are past and gone, though I did love it. The flash-bang of the one perfect word. The staccato repetition of a sound. The flood of thought or feeling that can immerse you in a line.

But, like Hemmingway, I still labor over the mot juste. The perfect word.

In Heroes the main character Charlotte has forbidden her daughter to go to a sit-in. The child argues, whines, and wheedles. As children are wont to do. At one point I said Charlotte ‘sighed.’ BUT – as I was getting into bed, I realized ‘sighed’ is the wrong word. It gives the impression, the feeling that she is capitulating to the child which is not what I meant at all. She is NOT capitulating. Indeed, she is actively making a choice to JOIN IN, to support, to participate. Rewrite!

I stopped writing The Girl in the Reeds when I got to the end of the story. This is the first murder mystery short story I’ve ever successfully written. There’ve been many short stories, but never a murder mystery short story. Short stories are by their nature, short. And I never thought I could build a puzzle and solve it in so short a space of time.

(Murder on Ceres was originally intended to be a short story but, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Topsy, it just “grow’d.” Until now it’s well on its way to being Dead and Gone, the second in a series of novels.)

Even so, with The Girl in the Reeds, I quit too soon. But it was truly a ‘short’ story. The action was over, the story told. All were safe and sound, at least from this mystery. But the ending did not satisfy. Like a wonderful meal. You’ve eaten. The food was good. The service, too. The ambiance pleasant. You could linger for hours, but you’ve got a life and you’ve got to go. Now you’re presented with the bill. And a chocolate covered mint.

I’d left out the after dinner mint. Rewrite!

And Dead Birds? It was the title. Originally I just called the piece Tornado. My editor didn’t like it. Too simple. Won’t catch the reader. Needs to be more.

The only thing bigger and scarier than a tornado would be a hurricane. Right? But my piece of nonfiction is about a tornado. So why would I call it Hurricane? Enough said. She, who wields a red pen as though it were a rapier. Nay! A broad sword. She said, “Think about it.” Rewrite!

And speaking of titles – this blog post is titled “Everything Matters.” Even I can plainly see it should be called “Rewrite!”

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Red Rocks -- A Day Trip

July 27, 2015
from center front clockwise: Silas, John Riley, Sonja,
and John Ryan
That's my son, his lovely wife, and their two brilliant sons. They live in Texas, so they particularly enjoyed our relatively mild mid-day temps. Their daughter was in Alabama for a mission trip. We missed her, but maybe she can come up later this year.

Red Rocks was 'discovered' in 1820 by a U.S. Army expedition. (The Ute apparently knew it was here long before that.) The Beatles played Red Rocks 51 years ago this month on their first American tour. And, after living 6.5 miles from it for almost four years, we've added it to our list of favorite day-trips. 

Running the steps in the amphitheater is a popular pastime with the locals. I make do with hiking the trails and taking too many photos.

And maybe sometime soon I'll add it to night trips. (Movies on the Rocks--live music, a comedian, and a classic movie. All for $12. BYOP--Bring Your Own Picnic.) 

The Rocky Mountains are primarily granite,    but scattered about in Colorado are magnificent  outcroppings of sandstone, testifying to the area's ancient history as a great inland sea.

And yes the sky is exactly this blue. 
Because we are in the rain shadow of the Rockies, our climate is that of a high plains desert.
And our native flora are often as architectural as the mountains. 
This is Common Mullein and, although it was the
end of July, it was not yet in bloom. That tall, leafless bit
at the top boasts brilliant yellow blooms now.

Many of our other wildflowers were showing the wear and tear of our fierce sun
and sporadic rainfall.

Pineywoods Geranium                              Toadflax                                     Dwarf Golden Aster

This year is being considered a 'wet' year. Keep in mind, however, that even during our wet years we measure rainfall in fractions of an inch and rain events rarely last longer that 20 or 30 minutes. 

While we were in the park we met a young man from Illinois. I explained about our arcane water laws. By interstate compacts with our downstream U.S.neighbors and international treaties with Mexico, we may keep only one-third of the water that falls on Colorado. It is illegal to catch and hold rain water that falls on our property. It is illegal to dig a water well without permission. That water is all spoken for.

And, this year in particular, our neighbors in Utah, Arizona, California, and Northern Mexico are in particular need. The young man from Illinois could not understand. When it comes to water, his home state is a land of plenty. The Southwest United States is not.

This is as close to lush as we come,

and we love it.