SNOWBOUND AND LOVIN’ IT?

Dawn breaks reluctantly. Freezing fog cloaks the slopes around Little House on the Hill. Purple and ivory light turns trees and shrubs into malevolent aliens watching our every movement. Or lack of movement. For Rich, the critters and I have been snowbound — unable to drive down Kruger Lane — for four going on five days, now.

And we loved it. At first. Kind of. Made us feel like pioneers: resourceful, tough, vibrantly alive. Hold that thought.

The Big Snow started Monday, the day after New Year’s. The day we thought that a good, heavy snow would be fresh and fun, which we’d photograph like paparazzi on speed. The day we lazily watched the Rose Parade beamed to our big-screen from palmy Pasadena. LOVED seeing the Victorian Roses equestrian group show off their dresses and horses!

Rich and I aren’t Preppers. But our larders were stocked. We had five-gallon water bottles in the garage in case the well-pump died when a tree fell on a power line or something. The new snow shovel was in the shed. And we had books, satellite dishes and a drawer full of board games. We were all set. Bring it on!

It got brought. Oh, yes. Big time. More than a foot of beautiful but wet, heavy white stuff dropped almost relentlessly between Monday and today. It turned out to be the deepest snowfall in the recorded history of Southwest Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. Big whoop.

A neighbor drove his ATV partway up the drive yesterday to see if we were OK. But he couldn’t make it any further. And we couldn’t walk the half-mile down to the bottom. Too steep and slick. Our post office wouldn’t even deliver down there. City, county and city offices closed for a day.

What could we do? Just deal with it. We’ve napped, read, showered and slept. And shoveled the long paved drive and twin decks like inmates sentenced to hard labor. Rich shoveling driveway snow for five hours daily on a 20 percent grade reminded me of Sisyphus rolling the boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have it roll back down every time. The skies had the audacity to dump more snow the very night after he’d spent the day clearing the drive in hopes we’d be able to drive off Shadow Mountain.

Our Boston Terriers gave us dirty looks each time we let them out to do their business. Velvet the Welfare Cat refused to leave the comfort of her fuzzy bed and catnip mouse in the warm comfort of the garage. Not gonna lie! We aren’t in Montana. We weren’t truly prepared.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a wild-eyed, bedheaded, older lady hitch her bathrobe clear up to her ahem! and curse the icy flakes soaking her head and slippers while she foot-shoves snow from the doghouse and deck steps so her dogs can reach their potty under a Doug fir.

Sounds rough, right? Not to worry. I’ve taken full advantage of all this effective house-arrest by reading, writing, and napping. Repeating as necessary. Rich whipped me, quite ungraciously, I thought, in several games of Aggravation. But I beat him at Yahtzee! I inhaled a regular box of Cheezits in less than a week. Facebooked like a maniac. Played with the Bostons, the cat, the parakeet, even dust mice. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I’ve also marveled at astonishing views out our windows or from our traffic circle, the few times the sun dared show its face. And managed to feel healthy, rested and, oddly, refreshed.

Today, the TV weather gurus say the snowstorms have passed. Yes! But temps will hover in the teens or twenties at night, so the existing snow ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I know. Many of you in far away parts of the U.S.A. and the larger world have it worse. Waaaaay worse. But, snowbound is snowbound. At least we have life, food and water, though increasingly less of the latter two. We have each other and our beloved critters. Plus, the Little House.

So it’s all good. The stuff of stories, and scenes in future books. A character-building experience. Surely some day we will share a laugh about The Big Dump of Twenty-Ought-Seventeen.

Surely.

THE WILD SIDE OF LIFE

Call me Leatherstocking. Davy Crockett. Even Carole the Wildlife Tracker.

For two years on daily walks with the Boston Terriers on our forested hill three miles from town, I’ve enjoyed fresh air, exercise and views. I have felt safe, blessed and energized. I have even entertained plot points for my latest writing project while the dogs gamboled off-leash up and down the hillside.

Almost every day, rain, ice or shine, while the dogs sniff and mark bushes, I check wildlife tracks and scat on our paved drive and decomposed-granite slopes. I identify what critter left the muddy tracks, which way it traveled, and whether it met its end the prior night. (Tufts of feathers or fur are a dead giveaway.) Ever and always, I hope for a close encounter of the wildlife kind. But not too close.

My reward: Glimpses of the odd deer, flicker, hare or wild turkey. Also, limited conversations with towhees, ravens and hawks. As befits a true Girl of the Limberlost.

We’ve always known that, in addition to the omnipresent birds, we share the lovely hill with raccoons, coyote, skunks, hares, turkey, and deer, to say nothing of those omnipresent squirrels, moles and rats. Mostly these critters mind their own business and we mind ours. Mind it, that is, unless they chew up our wiring or tunnel under our lawn. Then we haul out the traps.

As I say, it’s usually peaceful. But lately, to our growing discomfort, things have taken a turn toward the wilder side. We’re not sure why. Maybe because it’s winter. Alternatively, global warming?

Two months ago as the dogs romped with me in our cul-de-sac, something drew my attention on my left, just past the garden shed. Beady eyes in a very large coyote-head stared hard at Georgie, the youngest of the dogs, as he sniffed around our drive some thirty feet away.

Panic City! I shifted into Full Mad Mama mode, yelled for my dogs to come, and made with them for the safety of our back yard, enclosed by a six-foot-tall cyclone fence. Now all our dog walks are on-leash, thank you very much. No stinkin’ coyote is going to breakfast on MY precious fur babies.

One night near Thanksgiving, a black bear wandered onto our hill. We know this, because neighbors’ and our own heavy trash cans were gnawed, clawed and turned upside down, contents strewn hitter and yon. An empty dogfood can bore teeth punctures. One neighbor caught the un-bashful bruin on his security camera, and figured that when standing upright, the bear was taller than he! Tightened bungee cords have since been applied to garbage cans, or cans have been stashed in garages, to discourage the bear and drive him away.

On my walks I continued looking for bear prints — I’d already spied scat thick as bratwurst, but no tracks. Nothing. Our strategy must have worked. Or so we hoped.

Then today, during my morning walk — Score! I guess. If one likes that sort of thing. There lay four or five large, muddy bear-paw prints headed straight up our drive. Our trash can was secure. However, clearly that bear was not going away.

Night before last, there was a coyote sing-off like I have not heard outside of the outback. In the dark, right in front of our house, the frenzied barking and screaming pimpled my flesh. I opened a window and yelled, “Hey! HEY!” But the howling continued, and grew to involve more animals. The victory cry, the killing song: “Y’all come! Buffet!”

After checking to make sure all our dogs were in the house and the cat was safely in the garage for the night, I grabbed my S&W Crimson Trace .38 revolver. I dashed onto the porch. I braced my shooting arm, and I squeezed the trigger, firing one high-aimed shot out into the night.

A flash of fire, a ringing blast, and then total silence. The coyotes are keeping mum. For now.

I am rattled, to say the least. I hope I don’t get any closer than these encounters to larger carnivorous wildlife on our hill. But I guess from now on during morning walks, I will be packin’. At least for a while.

Call me what you like. Deadeye. Annie Oakley. Calamity Jane. Just don’t call me bait.

 

The Last Tomato

Just ripened in the kitchen! A fat, juicy cherry tomato to be admired, salted and popped into my mouth on the last day of Fall. Or the first day of Winter, if I can wait. Which I likely won’t, being an impatient sort of gal. It’s a tradition at our house to have a homegrown tomato for Thanksgiving. And even one near Christmas, if we can manage.

Every year Rich and I grow a few tomato plants from big hearty starts, in garden boxes beside our back deck. We bury them up to their knees and hocks to encourage great root systems, in potting soil amended with magnesium, phosphorous, calcium and aged manure from my horse’s stable. Even poop has a purpose!

Usually we plant a large-tomato variety such as beefsteak for awesome slicing and yummy bruschetta, and a cherry or grape tomato plant for their heavy yield and speed of ripening. We make sure both types are indeterminate growers, which means these plants keep growing and producing to first frost. By September the vines are so long that you keep looking for Jack to climb up them to escape the Giant and find the pot of gold!

After first frost we start picking green tomatoes shading to yellow. We bring them indoors to ripen in a bowl. Some folks bread and fry these babies in butter. Not us. We like ’em ripe, thank you.

Which brings me to The Last Tomato, shown here. This cutie met its fate shortly after I shot this photo. Its skin wasn’t too tough, and its flavor was tartly sweet with just enough lip-smacking juice. Mmm.

Moral? Given the chance and nurtured with care, even a last or “older” tomato — like a mature writer — can fulfill its potential and bask in the spotlight.

DO-OVER HEAVEN

Jolt, wizzle, twizzle! The sound we hear from speakers when a deejay jigs his fingers across a spinning music disc. We hear it, take it in and keep on dancing.

Whether happy or sad at the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, we — like party dancers — realize we are somehow together on the dance floor, progressing through a tune, though our moves are different. It’s how time works, LIFE works. We all move forward one step at a time. Elation or disappointment may grow or fade. But it won’t change time or agreed-on reality.

We joyfully or gingerly dance together now to a new tune, into a new era.

But what if, in this slowly unrolling or madly dashing life, we got a do-over, or as many do-overs as we wished? If the World itself got do-overs until we were ALL satisfied or nearly so with the way we’d made things turn out? (Prickly side question: Whose way would it be, anyway?)

Crazy, you say. Impossible, you mutter. And completely mad. Time would jerk and jolt back and forth, reality would shift depending on whose do-over was happening, and the consequence of these do-overs would multiply and radiate out like the shockwaves of a nuclear blast.

Now imagine yourself a writer of fiction, a writer of mysteries. Two words: Do-Over Heaven!

I do not imagine. I AM that writer.

Here at last things can turn out as I want. I am the master of people, of settings and of every circumstance imaginable.

For example, in the first 50 pages of my new Pepper Kane mystery, which I plan to complete by May 2017, someone out horseback riding plunges over the edge of a Southern Oregon mesa named Table Rock. In re-reading the section I’ve written, I decide that plunge needs to come later in the book — or perhaps not at all! And I re-outline and rewrite accordingly.

In this new mystery set in the New West, I also have an unhappy 14-year-old girl run away with her boyfriend. When several in my writing group question her age and her mother’s reaction to this situation, all I have to do is change the girl’s age and the mom’s subsequent behavior.

ALL I have to do. Ha! Just go back to the beginning and wrestle with words (easier to grapple with alligators) for the sixth or seventh time! After all, everything must flow, make sense and move forward … together.

See what I mean about a do-over creating a whole new set of circumstances that demand their own particular do-overs? Where does it stop?

Final example: The whole book represents a major do-over. It used to be two separate entities, a long story or novella called “Over the Edge” (see an earlier website blog post of mine) AND the first pages of a sequel book to my 2016 mystery “Saddle Tramps”. Then these two projects begged to be combined into one larger one. Which means I will be more or less up to my armpits in do-overs until May. At least. Don’t forget the final proofreading and approval of changes for my publisher.

Jolt, wizzle, twizzle. And on I dance, as fast as I can!

The result, of course, will be the book tentatively titled, “Final Cut” or “Over the Edge”, finished, and more or less be frozen in time. Out in print, set in stone. No more do-overs.

So yes. I must finally acceot it. I must believe I’ve shaped it as best I could. Which means … I must move forward again, a step at a time, dancing through an exciting new book.

You know what that means: a new record on the player. Do-overs. Times a hundred.

I love my life as an author.

MIND YOUR MENTORS

Lit from a bright steady light from within. A light that is anchored in my deep self and tended by a sure hand.

That’s how I feel today, six months after publication of my first full-length mystery novel, “Saddle Tramps.” Six months after being dazzled by the appearance of my actual, hold-in-your-hand book bearing the promise of a serious, ongoing fiction-writing career. Six months after madly scrambling for visibility, and racing on a dimly lit path to full time … Authordom.

Today I feel not only lit from inside with a light strong enough to sweep the road ahead, but also with a power that can sustain when shadows loom.

What’s made the difference? One word: Mentors. A gathering of readers and supporters, yes. Many with words of praise or advice. And a modest sheaf of good Facebook comments, and Amazon and Goodreads reviews.

The accumulated positives have an effect I pay attention to. They are like a thousand candles in the dark. They enable me to move, if haltingly at times. Get things done. So, a heartfelt thanks to you friends out there with candles, flashlights and lit-up cellphones.

However some mentors have marched forward with virtual beacons. I think here of a handful of best-selling, longtime career authors who’ve been there and are doing what I, at the start of this fickle career, hope to achieve at least to a modest degree. Authors such as Stella Cameron, Libby Fischer Hellmann, William Dietrich and J.A. Jance.

First, Stella Cameron — a wise and witty transplanted Brit whom I met in Seattle some twenty years ago when I went to interview her for a feature for The Seattle Times. Dazzled by her decades-long output of romantic-suspense and mystery novels, I also felt bonded at once.

Stella said she occasionally gently guides other writers starting out. She also loves animals, and is fascinated by Native American culture. Then Stella read my “The Stone Horse” inspirational novella … and, to my surprise, not only loved it, but also trotted out to buy her own little Zuni carved fetish (power) animal.

After I returned to Oregon in 2006 to write fiction, we stayed in touch, she always rooting me on.

For the “Saddle Tramps” book publication this past spring, Stella — madly dashing for a deadline of her own — provided my first cover “blurb.” I was over the moon at this recommendation from an author who has sold millions of books and made the major bestseller lists.

Just this past Friday she called me for an amazing conversation, which has sparked this blog post. First she thanked me for my Amazon five-star review of “Folly,” the cunning first book in her Alex Duggins mystery series set in an English village. Second, she offered timely advice about where to go next — and immediately, as time ticks loudly for a writer launching a new career after age 70.

“You must now write a new Pepper Kane mystery as quickly as possible,” she said. “It’s very important to keep the series going, and reward your readers who loved ‘Saddle Tramps’.”

Never mind the Pepper Kane short story/novella I’ve wrestled with for longer than a month. I should have been moving full-speed ahead with a new book. Wait, I said. I can use those 40 pages slightly rewritten, in the new book. “Great idea!” Stella said. Meanwhile, I should send PDFs of “Saddle Tramps” to the big reviewers ASAP — it’s not too late.

Stella writes two books a year. She believes that I, whom she calls an already good writer, should be able to write one (with all that entails) in seven or eight months. I can try!

Which brings us to my second big mentor, best-selling thriller writer Libby Fischer Hellmann. She was assigned to me, when I requested a free, marketing mentor, by Mystery Writers of America. Libby’s first advice was to have Sue Trowbridge of Interbridge, redesign my self-designed WordPress website, which you are experiencing here.

Libby’s second prompt was for me to write a mystery sequel novel to my first one, as fast as possible. Great minds do think alike.

Pulitzer Prize winner and NYT Bestselling Author William Dietrich provided another book blurb. He penned a nifty blog featuring me and two others on “Perseverance” in the Huffington Post,” and also said, “Keep going. You’re on a roll.” Or words to that effect.

Mega-selling mystery maven J.A. Jance, another Seattle homey with whom I keep in touch, said to produce another book as soon as possible, and to “grow your email list to let readers know the moment you have new books and other offers for them.” See a theme, here?

Monday Mayhem, my mystery-writers critique group headed by crime-noir/thriller author Tim Wohlforth, offers the same advice: Write forward! Do the stories and other projects later.

My takeaway from all this? Three little words: Mind your mentors. Small or large, many or few. Listen. Then take the action they suggest. Especially if they all say virtually the same thing.

And so now, newly inspired and fully illumined, I must say goodbye, and thanks for reading. I must write off into the sunset! A new Pepper Kane mystery awaits over the horizon.

STUCK AT THE EDGE

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What does a writer do when she’s stuck on a great story she’s rewriting, and can see no earthly way to get unstuck? When she has this idea that she loves, and that she’d love every bit as much if it were penned by another — perhaps, better — writer? But that needs a ton more work, major surgery even, to make it shine?

Happens all the time, you say. And even to those “better” writers. They feel an in-progress story or book is not quite right. Worse, the writer’s savvy editor or writing critique group confirms the suspicion, offering small tips or corrections here, comments about bigger changes, there. But no clear “aha” suggestions on how to re-boot or re-organize the piece so it works!

This is what’s happening with “Over the Edge,” my new Pepper Kane mystery story/novella. In this story, Pepper tries to stop someone with a murderous urge from pushing another someone over the edge of Southern Oregon’s Table Rock. And it’s driving me bonkers.

My mind fiddles around with it 24/7. Sometimes actively, sometimes in the background when I am doing something else. This has gone on for more than a month.

So I go out to breakfast with my long-suffering hubs. Ride my horse. Read other writers. Kvetch to friends. Lose myself in TV news. Listen to rain pelting our home’s old bubble skylights. Especially listen to rain on the old bubble skylights. So soothing, so hypnotic. Poppity, pop, pop, pop!

And I stay stuck.

I know the answer is inside that story, or my battle weary brain, somewhere. So here I go to dig again, tear apart, restructure, stitch back up, and dig, tear, restructure and suture some more.

Which version will live? Which will stand tall, proud, engaging, logical and READABLE? Which will not resemble Dr. Frankenstein’s monster when it is finally unleashed on an unsuspecting – and, hopefully welcoming — world?

Stay tuned.

THEY HEARD!

And … Drumroll, please … We have RAIN at last! It’s a bit unsettling, of course, to learn that one may be able to influence the Power that controls such things (see my Sept. 24 post). Wonder what else we might suggest?

I’m fiddling in my saddlebags, here, for helpful, responsible ideas. Don’t want to be too selfish, of course. But, okay, how’s about my being able to read and absorb a whole book in less than an hour. Asking too much? I have so many To-Be-Read books staring up accusingly at me from the shelves and occasional tables. (An occasional table. What is it when it’s not being a table?)

Then or perhaps first I’d ask for ongoing decent health, good purpose and happiness among family, friends and myself.

Of course, also for ongoing support and success in my writing. Which I get from hubs, Rich, and dear others like you readers here. My “Saddle Tramps” mystery was named the No. 1 Bestselling Trade Paperback for September 2016 at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Many thanks! Feeling the love. Should help power me through the next New West mystery story, novella or book.

Tucking in a request-rider, here, to those Powers-That Be: A Seahawks Super Bowl win. Looks doable from where I sit, looking out my window at the  life-sustaining rain on the Rogue Valley hills.

OK, now for the Big Ask: World peace. Yes. Hello? Oh, I know. Guess it starts right here.

 

 

 

 

CHANGING SEASONS

Get out the rain hats and ponchos! Maybe that will jog the Rain Spirits to send their wet arrows, and in quantity, We living things here in Southern Oregon (and in Northern California) surely could use it! Mount Ashland 40 miles south of Grants Pass had a dusting of snow this week and magnificent Mount Shasta got a light coat. White becomes those sacred sites.

But as Fall sweeps in, Summer is reluctant to leave. So we have both! Days in the 80s are back, with overnight lows in the 40s. I wore a cotton turtleneck, jeans and Carhartt vest yesterday to ride Brad. But I was ready to lose the vest if it got too steamy.

What to wear? What to do?

Rather like my journey as a new author (“Saddle Tramps”) finding my niche. I go back and forth. I call myself a writer of New West Mysteries. I love the American West, old AND new, tangled with mysterious circumstances that need to be straightened out. However, some stories I write are chilling thrillers and others sparkle with Hallmark Channel themes. “The Stone Horse” novella works as an inspirational parable and “Hannah of the Mustangs” shows a lost teen’s coming of age on Oregon’s Desert.

Like September being both Summer and Fall, I, too, do that cross-season, cross-genre thing. Refuse to be pigeonholed. Like to leave my options open.

Readers need not worry: In my books and stories you will always experience the New West. That’s the constant. And you will always find mystery, for isn’t all life a mystery? But you occasionally will see more, from other genres that catch my fancy. Or see my main genre shaken up with winds from new directions.

Summer to Fall. Then Fall to Winter. And at long last, Spring. New mixed with old. It’s what keeps us coming back for more, in writing and reading — as in Life

Say “Hey!” to the New West

I am branded a writer of New West Mysteries. In an earlier incarnation, I called myself a writer of Adventures in the New American West.

But exactly what is this “New West”?

Several best-selling authors working in the New West mystery genre—including Anne Hillerman—have spoken of this place both geographic and psychologic. I toss my cowgirl hat into the ring by first defining what it is NOT. That is a traditional Old West considered to exist in the United States west of the Mississippi between the mid-1800s through roughly 1900, give or take. Think pioneers, cowboys/girls, cattle drives. Think Native Americans, and those new to North America. Think range wars, water disputes, honor, courage and individualism. Most of all, think love for animals and the land.

Then bring such people, quirks, causes, critters and untrammeled lands into an updated geographic West which still contains pockets of the Old. An area that, by the way, includes Alaska, Pacific islands and other places that land-connected people are crazy for, will fight about, and traverse with reimagined Old West rigs such as boats, trains, and horses real or motorized. Not to mention new-fangled flying machines.

Be sure to bring your heroes, your gunfighters, spiritual leaders, peacemakers and homemakers, too. Big as the land, or small as the scorpion that changes – or ends – a life.

And there you have it. The New West. A little wild. A little old-fashioned. But a land of dreams, possibilities, do-overs. Whether set in a sky-wide desert or a mountain fastness, small town or glittering city, it resonates with places and people of a Western state of mind. They do not suffer new ways or newcomers easily. But they heartily embrace, and make their own, those who prove themselves worthy.