They’ll do it almost every doggone time. You grab a cup of coffee, fire up the PC, make sure the dogs are curled comfortably under your desk, and start finger-dancing on your ergonomically correct keyboard. Reading and editing back a chapter or so. Finally picking up where you left your hero or heroine the day before.

If you’re lucky, and “the moon is in the seventh house,” your characters walk or run here and there with purpose. They look this way and that, including inward. They have engaging adventures and interactions, They move your outlined plot along. Until they don’t.

Suddenly they veer off course, drawn by the gloomy or glittering horizon, or plunged into a calamity, conversation or contemplation you hadn’t planned. Things were getting a little dull in the writing anyway. You needed something to break it up, shake it up. What the heck, you think. Let’s embark on this side road and see where it takes us. And you give your character a green light. Maybe even a sturdy shove.

It goes well for a half-dozen pages. You see sides of the heroine you never expected, SHE  never expected, but that add enormous complexity and appeal.

What serendipity, you think. I’m a better writer than I thought. This book is gonna be killer.

Alternately, it’s gonna kill YOU. Or die trying.

“Pull up! Pull up,” shouts that small, not-so-still voice. “Get out, before it’s too late!” You know you’re about to crash and burn if you keep going off course, out of gas. But you are slow to realize it and take corrective action. It was all going so well …

I’ll give you an example from a near-death experience I had in a work-in-progress, the sequel to my “Saddle Tramps” mystery featuring ex-reporter Pepper Kane.

One minor character, my heroine’s adult daughter, Chili, about two-thirds through the book, with several other pressing dramas unfolding, calls to tell her mom she is pregnant — unwed, older, unemployed and bedding a MidEast immigrant who’s dumped her before.

I wrote on, digging myself deeper. Pepper with yet another problem. This was getting really good. I thought.

Lucky for me, the writer’s guardian angel wrote to the rescue before it was too late. She whispered in my ear after only two pages of this Chili silliness. I am not always that lucky!

The angel put this thought in my fevered brain: “Hold on, Chili! You have an interesting challenge. But not in THIS book. This is not Women’s Fiction, but a New West cozy mystery. Your mom has a horse to show, love issues of her own, and several bigger mysteries to solve. Later, Gator!”

Chili sank into a pout, but finally sucked it up and behaved. I told her that her condition was a false alarm, anyway, so why mention it?

I like to give characters free rein. But not NO rein.

Other examples of character independence-gone-wrong abound. Pepper had a small string of coincidences that helped her solve a mystery too early in the book. I figure she was just being lazy. Hey. I can relate.

Another time, her lover, Sonny Chief, was going to share in detail about his own adult kids, and about his important role at a Native American protest. I said, “Do it on your own time, Officer Chief. We love you almost as much as Pepper does, but it’s her story, after all!”

This gives you a notion of how writers deal with some of a book’s thornier issues. And maybe it also aligns with some of your own writerly, life-erly challenges.

The quote up top is true not only for writers, but also for just about everyone who tries to create something or make things better — including kids, Boston terriers, even themselves. Here’s to guardian angels. And to making the right calls!


Can an author write in a vacuum? No, Silly, not that kind of vacuum, where you and your tablet climb inside this dark, stinky cloth bag, yell for someone to hit the switch, and pound out words while a tornado pounds your bones. Although I like that image of a writer fighting the odds to bring something fresh, clean and elemental to light.

No. The vacuum I have in mind is a metaphorical one, if that’s the word. Rhetorical? A vacuum of space and time where you are literally and physically alone. You write, outline, write, fix and write some more. You spend hours, days and entire years, perhaps, butt in chair, making that story, reading it over, crossing out, refining, and writing some more. Word by word. Draft by draft. Paragraph by plodding paragraph. Alone. Very alone. With no one else evaluating, or offering suggestions, helping you brainstorm through dead spots. No one saying Professor Henry Higgins’ famous words, “By Jove, I think she’s got it!”

By the way — see how easily we wordsmiths are distracted? — those words should be credited not to the egotistical manipulator of English gutter-girl Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady,” but to playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose “Pygmalion” inspired the classic musical.

But back to our vacuum and how a writer fares in one. Some can write in a vacuum. And write quite well, yay for them! I am not one of these. Not yours truly. Not Author Dearest.

Don’t get me wrong. I closet myself, earplugs in place, for crazy short or stupid long stretches at a time. Grind out paragraphs and pages with no company or interruption. Move forward steadily and pridefully in this world I’m making on the keyboard or on paper. Believe, really believe, that what I’ve written is the second-best thing since sliced bread. Or wedding cake.

But sooner or later the party’s over. I begin to feel it, then I know it. Something isn’t working, Or maybe it isn’t working as well as it could. I am at a loss as to how can it be made better. More important, how will a random reader perceive the piece? Because, after all, I write to be … READ. Not only read, mind you, but also enjoyed. Hello?

That’s when I realize I need feedback. Intelligent honest feedback. Can’t live without it. Because all writers, maybe even Steven King, possess glaring blind spots about their own writing. We all have those favorite storylines, scenes, characters we are loathe to cull or discipline, though the project would be better for it.

Another set of eyeballs is invaluable. Maybe several sets. Someone or several ones to speak up when that loose child is screaming or cannonballing through the grocery store. Someone to offer an encouraging, empowering word when it behaves like an angel. So to speak. Someone to say whether what you’ve written actually works, is worth a reader’s time and energy. Maybe even someone to give alternatives and solutions. A way out, a way forward.

I am happy to say I actually have a whole bunch of such someones. They kept me on the strait and narrow, or tried to — I have my own opinions and ideas, after all — in the writing of “Saddle Tramps.” And they are still doing so as I write the sequel book and present parts of it for their unblinking inspection.

So. I hereby rear back and holler a huge shout-out to the friends, lovers and total strangers who read my work and continue to give honest reviews in person, email or (THANK YOU!) on Amazon and Goodreads.

I give a happy hoot to members of my mystery-writing critique group, Monday Mayhem. They include authors Jenn Ashton, Sharon L. Dean, Michael Niemann, Clive Rosengren, Tim Wohlforth, and *blushes* Author Dearest. Because, yes, I can be my toughest critic!

Finally, “Hail and Hello” to you reading this blog post whether you “like” and comment, or not. Just your being here is a kind of feedback. But do feel free to share your thoughts!


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.