The Romance Reviews

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Letting Go on Memory Lane

I was wandering down Memory Lane this afternoon. Maybe it’s because it’s almost the end of the year. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older (but still never going to admit to being a grown up, because that is a trap, plain and simple), or maybe it’s just because sometimes the past calls and beckons like a Siren on a rocky shoal. Then, again, maybe, the reason I took a leisurely stroll down Memory Lane was because of the WIP.

I found myself thinking about dogs that I’ve long since sent to the Rainbow Bridge, most with the last, tearful reminder that I will never forget them. I may forget the registered names, but I will never forget their call names. All of those dogs took a piece of my heart with them when they left—some just took a larger piece.

One I sent to the Bridge with the admonition not to wait for me, because his breeders had already gone before him. I told Boots not to wait on me, but to go find Fran and Herschel. As usual, Boots did things his way. I believe he found a way to come back to me. There are times that Vander scares me with just how much like Boots he acts.

And, I started to think about Lena the First.
Lena the First
(I had two beautiful tri bitches that I named Lena, both from Mary Murphy of Lil Murph Collies.) Lena the First was my reserve queen. If reserve points counted toward a championship, she would have been finished five times over. Lena was my first, real show dog. However, I didn’t own her. She owned me and it was my honor to be the human for that regal, arrogant animal. Lena liked people, but she never went over-board with displays of affection, as benefitted one of her stature. There was one, though that she loved beyond all reasoning, and it wasn’t me. I never doubted for a moment that she loved me. But, the person she loved the most was the young man I was supposed to marry. Whenever he came to the house, she turned into a black puddle of oozing, overwhelming fawning.

To this day, I think she blamed me when he was no longer a part of our lives. To a certain extent, she was right. When she went to the Rainbow Bridge, she truly took most of my heart with her. She was my friend, my companion, and some swore, my familiar. Meeting her eyes was looking into the eyes of a soul very old, very wise, and very, very self-assured. When she died, it took me years to even contemplate having another tri rough bitch at my house. And then, one night, after the annual Illiana Collie Fanciers show, I was at Mary Murphy’s house and she wanted me to look at her puppies. She had three separate litters. I looked at her puppies, and they were all beautiful. I stopped at the kennel run with the last litter in it.

There was a little tri rough bitch sitting in the corner. She wasn’t scared. She wasn’t intimidated by her litter mates. She just didn’t want to be climbed on and pushed around by them as they clamored for my attention. After a moment, she got up and walked through the mob of her litter mates and they parted for her as if they were giving way to royalty. Collie puppies are the happiest, friendliest puppies on the planet. Their tails never stop wagging.
Lena the Second


This little bitch climbed up on the fencing and looked me dead in the eye. Her tail was not wagging and she held herself with such dignity and arrogance that it took my breath away. The look on her face demanded that I pick her up, which I did. I looked into those eyes and started to cry. I knew that soul looking at me. I knew her from years before. The look I received as much as said, “Did you really think I wouldn’t find a way back to you?”

I carried her over to Mary and asked what she wanted for the puppy I held. Mary asked me why I wanted a pet puppy. I said I wanted her and what did she want so I could take her home. Mary told me her price, I said, “Done,” went and got my check book and wrote the check before Mary changed her mind. Almost an hour later, Mary realized I hadn’t been holding the pet puppy from the litter, but her pick of all three litters. I told her that was too bad, she gave me a price, I had written the check, she was mine. We came to an agreement on a co-ownership for that little tri bitch, and Lena the Second went home with me. She was registered as Lil Murph’s Grand Larceny and she became a champion before she was two years old.

And what do my collies who’ve gone to the Bridge have to do with the WIP? When I first conceived the idea behind Steel Hearts I knew that the hero had to be someone with a strong, protective background, someone unafraid to look death in the eye. So, naturally, the hero became a Navy SEAL (and, no matter how much the Marine Corps like to brag they’re the toughest, and as much as I respect those “jarheads” who are always first in and last out—they ain’t got nothing on the SEALs—sorry, gentlemen), and after he resigned his commission (because not only was he a SEAL, he was a graduate of USNA), he became a Federal Marshal working in the Federal Witness Security Program (commonly referred to as the Witness Protection Program).
Ariel view USNA 

I needed to talk to that young man Lena the First oozed all over because my recollections of his time at USNA were rather fuzzy. Over the years, in spite of a period of almost five years that we didn’t speak at all, we reconnected many years ago and have remained friends ever since. At least once a year, we talk on the phone. We converse via Facebook. But, for this, I needed a long conversation. Our conversation veered into other things—family, kids, grandkids, recollections of the time we dated. (And, in case that gentleman in question reads this blog, no, I do not own a bikini any more. I haven’t worn one in public in better than thirty years.)

I made the comment on Facebook while writing the WIP (which I guess isn’t accurate now that it’s a complete rough draft) that parts of this novel were cathartic. I won’t say what parts are cathartic. I won’t even verify which parts are if asked. But, by writing Steel Hearts, I finally let go of a lot of things. It’s a strange feeling.



Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Favorite Holiday Movies

For my Christmas blog, I’ve decided to do a top ten list—my ten favorite holiday movies.  So, in no particular order, here they are, complete with links.
1.      Three Godfathers: John Wayne in a Christmas movie? You betcha. This one was another of the Wayne/Ford works that stands the test of time. Here’s the description from Amazon: Fugitive bank robbers Robert (John Wayne), William (Harry Carey Jr.) and Pedro (Pedro Armendariz) stand at a desert grave. Caring for the newborn infant of the woman they just buried will ruin any chance of escape. But they won't go back on their promise to her. They won't abandon little Robert William Pedro. Director John Ford's Western retelling of the Biblical Three Wise Men tale remains a scenic and thematic masterpiece. Ford adds color to his feature-film palette, capturing stunning vistas via cinematographer Winton Hoch, who would win two of his three Academy Awards for Ford films. Again, populist-minded Ford asserts that even men of dissolute character can follow that inner star of Bethlehem to their own redemption.
2.      Die Hard: Let’s see, Bruce Willis as John McClaine, the iconic line of “Yippee kiyay, mother-f@^%#r,” and a younger Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. What wasn’t to like? From Amazon: This seminal 1988 thriller made Bruce Willis a star and established a new template for action stories: "Terrorists take over a (blank), and a lone hero, unknown to the villains, is trapped with them." In Die Hard, those bad guys, led by the velvet-voiced Alan Rickman, assume control of a Los Angeles high-rise with Willis's visiting New York cop inside. The attraction of the film has as much to do with the sight of a barefoot mortal running around the guts of a modern office tower as it has to do with the plentiful fight sequences and the bond the hero establishes with an LA beat cop. Bonnie Bedelia plays Willis's wife, Hart Bochner is good as a brash hostage who tries negotiating his way to freedom, Alexander Godunov makes for a believable killer with lethal feet, and William Atherton is slimy as a busybody reporter. Exceptionally well directed by John McTiernan. --Tom Keogh
3.      The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: Dr. Suess at his best. Narrated by Boris Karloff (yes, THAT Boris Karloff), this Christmas classic is a perennial favorite in my house, and the grand-daugther and I can often be found watching it any time of year. The songs are catchy—“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch…” I mean, seriously, how much more of an insult can you hand anyone than to call them a toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce?
4.      It’s a Wonderful Life: Yes, George’s disbelief in Clarence can carry too far, but this is a lovely, happy movie full of uplifting messages. Every life touches so many others, in ways that we often never see. From Amazon: Now perhaps the most beloved American film, It's a Wonderful Life was largely forgotten for years, due to a copyright quirk. Only in the late 1970s did it find its audience through repeated TV showings. Frank Capra's masterwork deserves its status as a feel-good communal event, but it is also one of the most fascinating films in the American cinema, a multilayered work of Dickensian density. George Bailey (played superbly by James Stewart) grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming dreams of adventure and travel, but circumstances conspire to keep him enslaved to his home turf. Frustrated by his life, and haunted by an impending scandal, George prepares to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. A heavenly messenger (Henry Travers) arrives to show him a vision: what the world would have been like if George had never been born. The sequence is a vivid depiction of the American Dream gone bad, and probably the wildest thing Capra ever shot (the director's optimistic vision may have darkened during his experiences making military films in World War II). Capra's triumph is to acknowledge the difficulties and disappointments of life, while affirming--in the teary-eyed final reel--his cherished values of friendship and individual achievement. It's a Wonderful Life was not a big hit on its initial release, and it won no Oscars (Capra and Stewart were nominated); but it continues to weave a special magic. --Robert Horton
5.      Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Seriously, if you’ve never seen this, crawl out from under your rock and rent it. Santa is a bit of a tool (sorry, Santa, just calling them as I see them) in this classic and incredibly mean to Rudolph and his family, but as with so many other Christmas stories, there are excellent messages for kids of any age.  Added bonus, Burl Ives narrating and singing.
6.      The Little Drummer Boy: You may have to search to find this as it was originally recorded because the versions offered on Amazon are not the best quality. However, the story of Aaron, the little boy who refuses to smile after his parents are murdered and is taken in by three kings travelling to Bethlehem to give their gifts to the newborn king, is beautiful. When Aaron’s small lamb is struck by a Roman charioteer careening through the streets, Aaron offers up the only gift he can give to the newborn king. He plays his drum for him and Aaron’s small lamb is miraculously healed. I cry every time I watch this.
7.      Miracle on 34th Street: From Amazon: Delightful Christmas fantasy of a charming old man who believes he is Santa Claus, and the wonderful change he brings to the people around him. This perennial holiday classic is on many short-lists of the all-time great Christmas movies. The film just oozes with warm-hearted humor. Very young Natalie Wood sparkles as Susan, who learns to stop being so grown up, and enjoy childhood, with all its wide-eyed wonder. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, and lives the role. He totally connects with the kiddies who visit "Santa" at Macy's department store. The brief scene with the little Dutch refugee girl is a definite emotional high point in this movie. The combined reaction of relief and wonder in the child's face as she visits Santa and finds he speaks her language is memorable. Gene Lockhart as the harried judge, and William Frawley as his street-wise political advisor provide the needed comic relief to keep the court-room segments from becoming too overwhelmed by lawyers and their tactics. Even Jack Albertson shows up as an ingenious postal clerk who helps Kringle solve his legal problem. The on-location scenes filmed on the streets of New York assist the viewer in suspending disbelief. An enthusiastic cast, crisp direction by George Seaton, a sentimental holiday message, and great humor make this movie a solid holiday treat for the entire family.
8.      A Christmas Carol: This remake with George C. Scott (Patton) as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is incredible. It is one of the best versions and telling of the tale. From Amazon: George C. Scott gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen an actor give; he truly becomes Ebenezer Scrooge to the fullest degree possible. Scott can say more with just the slightest hint of a facial movement than many actors can say during the course of an entire movie. All of the performers here are excellent, bringing to life adored characters such as Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Scrooge's nephew Fred. All four spirits are remarkable, none more so than Scrooge's old partner Jacob Marley; having Marley's jaw drop after untying the burial cloth holding his mouth closed is an important aspect of the story and certainly does make an impression on the viewer. This is just one example of the moviemakers' faithfulness to Charles Dickens' original story; another would be the inclusion of the two miserable children, Ignorance and Want, beneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. This timeless tale works extremely well on its own, but the unsurpassed acting skills of Scott make it almost more than real. The change wrought in him during the course of the night, as he changes from a man of crass materialism and unkindness to a repentant soul pleading for a chance to change his ways, is powerfully presented and really touches the viewer emotionally. The simple happiness revealed in the lives of Bob Cratchit and others are as heart-warming as the forgotten mistakes and pains of a younger Scrooge are agonizing.
9.      The Bishop’s Wife:  From Amazon: No classic holiday collection should be without this joyous tale. It stars a divine Cary Grant, a lovely Loretta Young, and a "doubting" David Niven. As Christmas approaches, Bishop Henry Broughm is feeling the pressure of raising money to build a Cathedral. The money is out there, a wealthy woman has volunteered to contribute what's needed to complete the task. But...there's a catch....it must be done her way…and Henry must decide whether to accept and put his principles aside or decline and have no Cathedral. He is so preoccupied with this problem that Julia, his wife feels she is losing him. Henry prays for guidance...and it arrives...in the form of one dapper angel..."Dudley". Dudley has got his work cut out for him with this assignment. Henry is a tough case. But along the way of trying to enlighten the Bishop of the joys of life(not to mention all the hungry people the money could feed),Dudley, played by Cary Grant touches the lives of all those around him. Most of the women are simply in awe of his presence, an aging history scholar(played impeccably by Monty Woolley)finds a renewed zest for life and even a cynical cab driver is reformed by the mere presence of Dudley. But can Dudley get through to Henry in time to restore his wonderful marriage to Julia?....Can even an Angel resist the charms of Loretta Young? You'll be smiling all the way through this touching, classic Christmas story finding out.
The supporting cast are legends in their own rights, as well.
10.  The Polar Express: From Amazon: Destined to become a holiday perennial, The Polar Express also heralded a brave new world of all-digital filmmaking. Critics and audiences were divided between those who hailed it as an instant classic that captures the visual splendor and evocative innocence of Chris Van Allsburg's popular children's book, and those who felt that the innovative use of "performance capture"--to accurately translate live performances into all-digital characters--was an eerie and not-quite-lifelike distraction from the story's epic-scale North Pole adventure. In any case it's a benign, kind-hearted celebration of the yuletide spirit, especially for kids who have almost grown out of their need to believe in Santa Claus. Tom Hanks is the nominal "star" who performs five different computer-generated characters, but it's the visuals that steal this show, as director Robert Zemeckis indulges his tireless pursuit of technological innovation. No matter how you respond to the many wonders on display, it's clear that The Polar Express represents a significant milestone in the digital revolution of cinema. If it also fills you with the joy of Christmas (in spite of its Nuremberg-like rally of frantic elves), so much the better. --Jeff Shannon

Any of your holiday favorites I’ve missed? Let me know…and in the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may all the blessings of the season be yours.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Grown-Up Christmas List

On Facebook, I’ve been driving my friends crazy with a daily posting what I want Santa to put under my tree. It started out as a joke and I will continue to post something like that on a daily basis until Christmas is over. The joke I posted was that I wish Santa would leave Henry Cavill (the really pretty eye candy from the Showtime/BBC series The Tudors and the summer blockbuster Man of Steel) under my tree. I know it’s a joke and I’m happily married, but there are some things I can admire. As a friend said, “Just because you’re on a diet doesn’t mean you can’t look at the menu.”

But that joke has me thinking about what I really want under my Christmas tree. Here’s my “grown-up Christmas list” as the song goes.

I wish that as a society we could all agree that it isn’t guns that kill people, but people bent on causing destruction, harm, and death are what kill people. Gun violence is a symptom of the issue, not the issue. We have become a society that doesn’t value life. Life is cheap. We have reduced people in our society to what they wear, who they date, and how much money they possess. Life has become about possessions, not living. People of my age grew up playing “cowboys and Indians” and “cops and robbers” and most of us would never turn a gun on anyone simply to harm another person. My children grew up playing video games, and some of the ones my son played were incredibly violent, but he would never consider turning a gun on helpless, defenseless people with the sole intent to create as much death as possible. I’m tired of gun owners being held responsible for the actions of people that have taken it upon themselves to commit murder and mayhem with a weapon, yet we cannot hold a religion and its followers to the same standard when every terrorist attack on this country was committed by followers of a “religion of peace.” Or how about this: no one is trying to make it harder to get a license to drive a car, yet drunk drivers kill more people annually than people wielding guns kill.

I wish as a society we would get rid of the political correctness bullshit. It is total and complete bullshit and the only thing bullshit is good for is fertilizer. Cities can’t have a Nativity scene because it crosses the line between Church and State. I’m not supposed to say “Merry Christmas” because I might offend someone. The television network A & E just suspended Phil Robertson from the juggernaut show Duck Dynasty because Phil voiced a personal opinion in an interview that had NOTHING to do with A & E about his thoughts on homosexuality. Phil’s entitled to his opinion; unfortunately, A & E didn’t think so. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I don’t care who you choose to sleep with, so long as your choice of sexual partners involves neither children nor animals, it is none of MY damn business. In that same vein I’m tired of double standards. Had a gay activist said the same thing about straight people that Phil Robertson said, other than the reported interview, nothing would have been said or thought about it.

I wish we truly could have religious tolerance, but as long as there are fundamentalists of any flavor, it won't happen. As long as there are fundamentalists shouting that I'm going to hell because I don't believe that there is only one way to heaven, there won't be religious tolerance. (BTW, hop on the bus, I'm driving this highway to hell!) As long as there are religions that believe a woman is not as good as a man and must be subservient to him, there won't be religious tolerance. Guess what...your god is no better than my god, and She is all the same god. Some of you just see Her face very differently than I see it. Whether you see that god as Jehovah, Jesus of Nazareth, Al'lah, Isis, Ishtar, or Hekate--all are just the many faces of the divinity that resides within all of us. Until we can understand that there is divinity within each and every one of us, there will not be religious tolerance. 

I want the attacks by animal rights activists to stop. If you choose not to have a pet, that is your choice. I think your life is a lot emptier than mine, but that’s just my opinion. If you choose not to eat meat, that’s also your choice. More power to you. However, there are those of us who enjoy a thick, juicy steak. I don’t try to dictate to you; please don’t think to dictate to me.

I wish I would wake up Christmas morning and learn that the Congress of the United States had actually come to its senses and is not making cuts in the retirement benefits and the pay and other benefits for our military, both active and retired. Just because those members of our military signed a blank check to Uncle Sam doesn’t mean they should be bled dry. Many of the people in this country are members of our armed forces or have family/close friends who are serving/have served. For those of us who are offended by this misuse, disrespect, and mistreatment of our military, the members of Congress need to realize that we will remember in the midterm elections next year.

I wish I would wake up Christmas morning and learn that people in this country have finally woken up and realized that the government cannot and should not ever be responsible to care for them from cradle to grave, but I don’t hold out any hopes for that. (My odds of finding Superman under my tree are a whole lot better.) Unfortunately, we have become a society that has lost our ability to be trail-blazers, pioneers, and be self-sufficient. We are a nation of sheep, led by wolves.

Let the flames begin. While I wait with my asbestos suit on, I’ll leave you with this:
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Completely Random Thoughts

It’s pretty sad when I know I need to get a blog post up and I’m so fresh out of ideas that I asked for suggestions on my personal Facebook page. (Does anyone see my head hitting my desk?)

Someone suggested writing about pie. I like pie. Cherry is my favorite. I make one mean cherry pie, too. Just ask my family.

Someone else suggested I write about my teaching philosophy. I’m not sure I have one anymore. I admit, quite readily, that I am burnt at both ends. Halfway through this semester, I had to step away from a job/profession that I love because of health issues. I feel as if I have failed the students who relied on me. I’m not sure if I want to teach again in a formal, classroom setting.

Someone else suggested that I leave the blog post open ended, but I don’t know how to do that.

Maybe, I’ll just babble about whatever comes into my head for the next twenty to thirty minutes—kinda like a stream of consciousness writing thingy. (How’s that for technical writing terms from an English major?)

It’s snowing here in Indiana tonight. I also read that it snowed for the first time in Cairo, Egypt in 112 years. Jerusalem is buried under over a foot of snow. While I know that the term was changed to “climate change” when the facts just wouldn’t line up with the scare tactics of “global warming”, I want to send a tweet to Al Gore and ask him how that global warming thing was supposed to work. Weren’t we supposed to be broiling by now?

There was another school shooting today. Needless to say, some of my liberal friends immediately jumped on the band wagon of wanting more gun control. Really? How’s that gun control thing working out for Chicago? One of them even said that the second amendment should be changed. Sure. While we’re at it, let’s just overturn the whole Bill of Rights. Then I won’t have to worry about posting any more blogs, because there won’t be freedom of speech, either.

Did you hear about the billboard that some atheist society purchased in Times Square, wanting to take “Christ” out of Christmas? While I know that the origins of the celebration of the winter solstice predate Christianity, and I am often very, very amused by fundamentalists of any flavor, and even more amused at how Christianity stole at least 90% of the traditions of the faith from the pre-existing pagan beliefs, I wanted to ask that atheist society if that was the best thing they could spend their money on. Really? You couldn’t find a charity to donate the money to, so that you actually practiced what you were preaching, that the holiday season is about giving, and love, and light, and good will to others.

I am also delaying writing the last chapter to the new WIP because my inner child is throwing a tantrum and doesn’t want to say “goodbye” to her newest, bestest friends. I was asked the other day by someone of all the books I’ve written, which one was my favorite. That person then said that was probably like asking me to pick a favorite child. How very true. Writing is rather like having a kid, without the hospital bill, most of the time. But, even though I LOVE the characters in the WIP, I’ll always be partial to The Devil’s Own Desperado because it was the first one I published. Rather like that first love you just don’t get completely over. My favorite, though, would have to be the one on my editor’s desk right now, going through the second round of edits. Smolder on a Slow Burn has been with me for a long, long time. It started out as a contemporary years (and I do mean years) ago. When the Muse dropped the idea for NaNoWriMo on my head last November, I knew EXACTLY who the main characters were. I pulled A.J. and Alli from that contemporary and put them into a western historical. I have been in love with Major A.J. Adams, Jr. and Allison Webster for more than twenty years. The fact I could take him out of a Marine Corps uniform and slide that CSA cavalry officer’s frock coat onto him worked out perfectly.

I’m totally geeking out over the movie Man of Steel. Yes, I know, I’m a little late to the party here, but one of the reasons I didn’t want to see it originally was I just had a really hard time seeing some Brit as an American icon. Another reason was Christopher Reeve would always be my Superman. (We just won’t mention the last two of the four that he did in the role because not even Chris Reeve in that adorable spandex suit could save those things.) The reboot of the Superman franchise about five years ago with Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel in Superman Returns was a real disappointment. Please note, I said Christopher Reeve would always be my Superman. Does anyone have any idea how hard it is to eat words put onto a computer monitor? At least if I had printed that statement on paper, I could choke it down with some salt and water. HOLY CROW ON CRACKERS, BATMAN! What Zach Snyder did in the reboot of Superman with Man of Steel still has me reeling (and that’s not even mentioning “that Brit” as the most iconic of American icons).  

And, I’m still trying to figure out who to cheer for in the annual Army/Navy football game. I think what I will do, as we’ll probably be snowed in tomorrow (or today, as it is after midnight, now) is have my own movie marathon. Now the decision is what marathon? Star Wars, the Harry Potter movies, Supes, or maybe—some Pirates. I hate making decisions.



Monday, December 9, 2013

Dealing with a Demanding Muse

I ran away from the Muse for the better part of the day about two weeks ago. I pretty much said She can write whatever She wanted that day, but not to expect me to transcribe it any time soon. I then popped a movie into the DVD player of my lap top and watched The Searchers, again. I watched My Fair Lady. And, then, to make sure the Muse knew I was not speaking to Her, I watched parts of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Shut up, Muse…not going there, ever again.)

Not exactly how I see Her...
I was ignoring my Muse. I was trying to shut Her up. I was beyond infuriated with Her. She is a vile, evil creature and whatever depths of Hell spawned Her, they can take Her back. In case no one has noticed, I speak of that creative impulse as my Muse, and I often see Her as something to be revered and nurtured, but for several days, I did not seen Her in this light.

I’ve stated before that my Muse is a fickle Bitch. She will sometimes take a hiatus for as much as a year. Once time, She didn’t speak to me for almost two years. Usually, when She is on hiatus, She will leave a small creative spark with me, so the fire doesn’t go out, per se. The last two times She left, She took everything with Her. After I completed The Devil’s Own Desperado, She left. I had nothing—my creative self felt like an old, dried up corn husk, dead and withered.

Then, last year for NaNoWriMo, She breezed into my head again, and literally dropped a whole book into my lap. Or was it onto my head? It doesn’t matter—I had the whole story of Smolder on a Slow Burn in my head. I started writing and the words poured out of me. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything but write. If I tried to sleep, I saw the next scene playing out in my head, as if I was watching a movie. I had to get up and go write that scene. I swear the whole time I was writing, I could hear Her laughing at me. When I tried to sleep, if I didn’t get up and write that next scene, I was terrified the whole thing would be taken from me.

About a week later, I had a 200 plus page, more than 60K word rough draft completed. And, She was gone. Not even a “Back in a while” or a single postcard from the edge.

And then about a month ago, She was BAAAAAAACK! And, the Bitch did it to me again, dropped a whole novel onto my head. I got to know the confines of my office space very well. Only this time, what She gave me made me feel cheapened and used.

I argued with Her. Didn’t do a bit of good. I refused to write what She stuck in my head. Sleep became more elusive than unicorns and hen’s teeth. I tried drowning Her out with music on the iPod. She just kept surfacing through the music, as if it had been written specifically for what She wanted me to write.


Yeah, I wrote fan fiction starring this scoundrel
I gave up and I started writing. I wrote what She wanted me to write and the whole time I was trying to reason with Her that I DO NOT write fan fiction any more, and certainly not fan fiction with the requisite Mary Sue character. (Back when I was a teenager, I wrote a piece of fan fiction set in the Star Wars universe, and shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out on DVD I did borrow Snape for a little while…I would like to think that in that AU world, I gave Snape a little more happiness than he'd ever really had in Ms. Rowling's universe.) Apparently, I still do write fan fiction. I will readily admit, there is some incredible fan fiction out there, and some of it is written better than the works they are created from. (Case in point would be the 50 Shades of Gray series, which started as fan fiction to Twilight.) I tried to argue with Her, even while I was writing, that I felt cheapened and used. And, She ignored me. (Surprise, surprise, surprise…)
And, fan fiction for this one, too. 


While checking Facebook while writing this thing, I found an article on one of the writing sites I follow that talked about the kinds of writers block and how to overcome them. One of the first ones talked about the well going dry, which is what I feel like every time my Muse goes away. The suggestion to bring back the creative fire—write fan fiction.

Say WHAT? (No, I just did NOT read that! I will not encourage that Bitch.)

Write fan fiction. (Does everyone see my head hitting my desk, repeatedly?) The thing with fan fiction is that it can force a writer outside of the comfort zone (staying in the comfort zone is another way to bring about writers block) and make the writer literally write differently. The world comes premade, with characters already there, with all their foibles, strengths, and idiosyncrasies. The challenge to the writer is to write that/those characters in character. If you’re going to write a scenario where Han Solo leaves Leia, it better be a damn good scenario, because even though he’s a bit rough around the edges, his loyalty to those he loves was proven again and again both in the movies and in the spin-off novels. (Oops…okay, I will claim when I wrote that piece of fan fiction, I was all of seventeen.)

And when I finally typed “the end” to this current piece of fan fiction, I realized that there are gems I can glean from this drivel my Muse and I created. Some of the scenes are gut wrenching (try almost killing the hero with a hand napped dagger), some are light-hearted, and some have created a private joke for me and a few of my friends when I told them what I was writing and those friends followed the story creation. Duct tape, anyone?


I still wanted to wring my Muse’s ethereal neck. However, this time, the piece of fan fiction was just the warm-up. I hadn’t been away from the fan-fiction for more than two days when She woke me up from a sound sleep and said, “Here’s what you need to do with that.”

 I’m stepping out of my comfort zone for the new WIP. It’s a contemporary romance. There aren’t any cowboys (well, as long as you don’t count a federal marshal who has the nickname “Cowboy”), no cattle, no one saddles up and rides into town, and the weapons are not carried in a holster tied down low (they’re actually in shoulder holsters).

I’m about 40K into this WIP and I’ve had a few black moments written into this one. The blackest moment is coming and I will admit I’m not looking forward to writing it. Again, I’m avoiding Her and the WIP. But, I can’t put it off any longer. I need to go double tap a villain and make a "happily ever after." That might be the real reason I'm avoiding Her. I'm not sure I want to let this couple go.


  

Monday, November 25, 2013

For All This and So Much More, I Give Thanks...

I had a blog post written and all ready to do today, and I decided that post can wait a while because I’ve been following a small phenomenon on Facebook this month. I noticed it last year during November, too. Every day of the month, my friends are posting something different every day they are thankful for, rather than just mentioning those things only on Thanksgiving.

I didn’t do that last year and I’m not doing it this year. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not because I’m not thankful. Heaven knows, I am incredibly grateful, thankful, and consider myself blessed for a myriad of reasons. If you follow me on my professional FB page, you know that I’ve been having some difficulty with my sight. Fortunately, it’s only affected one eye. For that I am thankful, because the thought of a life with very restricted sight or without any sight at my age is terrifying.

I’m thankful for my family, immediate, extended, and those have chosen to count me as family—such as very close friends. Yes, these people can be exasperating, frustrating, and even annoying at time, but I can also be all of those things. It doesn’t mean I am not thankful for their presence in my life and count myself as blessed. The people in my life who are my family are also my greatest source of strength and encouragement.

I am thankful for a job I held a few years ago where I was honored to work with so many talented, gifted people. I had a nick-name there I am still proud of, that of Benign and Benevolent Dictator and it was my loyal “minions” who gave that name to me. I am so proud of those people and have been blessed to know them, to watch them leave their academic careers behind and go on to much greater things than at times I think they knew they were capable of. I always knew each and every one of them was more than capable, and they were all destined for greatness. My minions, you have truly blessed my life, and so many of you continue to be blessings to me today.

I am thankful that I am involved in a hobby where there is so much support and genuine friendship. Too often, those involved in this hobby/sport of dog showing forget that it is just a dog show and there will be another one next weekend. Fortunately, for the most part, the breed that I am committed to has people who truly want to be the people that our dogs believe we are. As an added bonus, on any given weekend, I get to spend time with my dogs, my friends, and see beautiful collies from all over the country. And, just outside my back door are some of those beautiful animals. For this, I am very thankful.

I’m also thankful for all the support I receive from “friends” I have never met for my writing career and endeavors. I reached a goal I have long dreamed of, and that was becoming a published author. A few months ago, I signed a contract for a second romance novel with my publisher. Not only am I a published author, this book makes me a multi-published author. I get to hide from the world in a place I’ve created, populated with people who only exist in my head, and then share them with the world. I’m thankful my husband is understanding and supportive of me when I vanish for days on end into my office, creating the next story. He truly is one of the best. I’m thankful for my Muse, even if She can be a total bitch at times (but that is a whole other blog post—for another time).

I’m thankful that I can sit at my desk and browse the Internet. The days of having to go to a library for research are over. Not that I still don’t like to go to a library, because there is something relaxing and calming about wandering in the stacks of a library, but when I need to verify a fact, I usually need to find that information immediately. Browsing the Internet also allows me to go to places that I know I can never afford to go and see things I would never see otherwise. There are so many beautiful places and things I’ve “seen” through an Internet connection.

I’m thankful for the roof over my head, that I have enough to feed my family, and that there is heat in the winter, and air conditioning in the summer. So many people in this country right now are struggling to keep their homes, worry about whether or not they will have enough to feed their loved ones. Part of being thankful for what I have must be the willingness to share what I can, when I can.

Part of the reason I don’t participate in the month-long celebration is I believe we need to be thankful every day for the people who bless our lives with their presence, we need to give thanks for the blessings in our lives, and we need to share our bounty with gratitude and a humble heart.

May you all have a blessed, bountiful Thanksgiving.


Friday, November 22, 2013

What Do You Listen To?

I’ve been asked by a few people what’s on my play list when I’m writing. The answer to that is it all depends on what I’m writing and where I’m at in the process. If I’m working on a rough draft, I want something that I can type in rhythm with. Usually that’s my favorite collection of heavy, hard rocking classics: stuff from Sammy Hagar, Def Leopard, Led Zepplin, Aerosmith, and AC/DC. I’ve tried to listen to my favorite movie soundtracks and learned rather quickly listening to that had me starting to envision the movie rather than writing. Movie soundtracks=bad for a rough draft.

If I’m fleshing out the rough draft, I try to create a play list that fits the work. For the novel I just signed a contract for, which I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo, I listened to a play list that incorporated a lot of the music from the musical The Civil War and Civil War era pieces. I can sing the whole of “Bonnie Blue Flag” now. (But, don’t ask me to sing, because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.) Come to think of it, that was the play list while I was writing that novel last November, too.

If I’m eye-ball deep in editing, I can go with the movie soundtracks. Eye-ball deep in edits usually means it’s very close work and I have to pay extreme attention to what I’m doing, so the sound tracks become background noise. While doing the edits for the second romance novel, however, I found that I couldn’t get into the time period or the character’s heads, so I put the Civil War play list on. Viola! Once more, I was back in the late 1870s, chugging across the country in a railroad car pulled by a steam engine.

However, if I’m listening to the soundtrack to one of my favorite movies (whatever that movie happens to be), I can’t listen to that soundtrack and work. It’s that simple. I listen to the soundtrack and decide, “The heck with it. I’m going to watch THAT movie.” Kind of like right now. I’m listening to the soundtrack from newest favorite movie and thinking I really want to watch that movie again. We won’t mention how often I’ve watched my latest favorite movie in the past five days, but let’s just say that’s it been enough to memorize some of the best lines. (I’m seeing registered names for a few of my show collies coming out of this movie, too.)

Anyway, to answer the question about what I listen to while writing, it all depends on where I’m at in the writing stage, if I can get back into the character’s heads for edits, and what stage of the editing. Now, I’m going to watch a movie.




Friday, November 15, 2013

Filling those bright red boots...

Because I’m not really into going to a movie theater to see movies, I usually wait until the movie comes out on DVD. I can honestly say the last movie I saw in the theaters was Les Miserables with my daughter last winter. The only movies I actually planned to see in theaters on their release were the Harry Potter movies (and yes, I was one of those people standing in line to see a movie that started at midnight!) and before that, the Star Wars movies. We also will not discuss how many times I saw the first Star Wars movie the summer of 1977. (Oh, dear Lord…that was how many years ago?)

Tonight, I bought Man of Steel and came home to watch it. (Yes, I buy the DVD because even at $20, it’s still cheaper than a movie ticket, a bucket of popcorn, a drink, and the gasoline to drive to the theater.) I’ve got a few things to say about the movie. First of all, it did drag a bit in places, but HOLY MOSES! the fight scenes between Kal-el and General Zod…no spoilers, but they had me on the edge of my seat a few times.

I was also incredibly impressed that a British actor (Henry Cavill—remember Charles Brandon in the BBC series The Tudors) could do such a dead-on Kansas accent. While I was skeptical that this re-imaging of the Superman legend/canon would fly (sorry, bad pun there), it was done well. For a change, as an audience (albeit of one in this case), we got to see the “human” side of Kal-El, how he struggled with his unique abilities, fought to keep who/what he was hidden even when everything in him wanted to do what was right and help people. The movie also brought up the question of how much of who we are is nurture or nature. I don’t think it totally answered that question because I don’t think there ever will be a definitive answer. And without any spoilers, this imagining of Superman did what for many would have been the unthinkable--and Clark/Kal-El/Superman was filled with a horrible remorse.
Christopher Reeve as Superman

This Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman is also a momma’s boy. I loved it. One of my favorite lines from the movie happens when General Zod and Company have arrived at earth and threaten Martha Kent. In defending her, Clark is pounding the crap out of one of the bad guys and says, “You don’t go after my mom!”

Brandon Routh as Superman
I was also pleased that Zod wasn’t a Snidley Whiplash kind of villain. He had depth and dimension. What he was planning to do to earth was all wrong, but he was doing it for all the right reasons (at least in his own mind). And, I could understand where he was coming from (which should frighten some people). He had a chance to restore/rebuild Krypton. For all of his life, his job, his reason for being, was to protect and defend Krypton. Zod’s motivation raises the moral and ethical question if something happened to earth and a small handful of survivors had the chance to reform another planet into earth and restore humanity, what would we do?

 Also, for a change Lois Lane isn’t a total moron. I mean, for years, after seeing the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, and even before that with the old T.V. series, I always asked myself just how stupid was that woman. When did a pair of glasses become such a fantastic disguise that Lois Lane couldn’t tell Clark Kent was actually Superman?

Henry Cavill as Superman
In the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, I absolutely loved how as Clark Kent, Reeve slouched a little, fumbled with things, and stammered, but when he became Superman, the posture straightened, he stopped stammering, and he was as graceful as a sleek cat. In the previous Superman movie (Superman Returns), with Brandon Routh, there were times that I was unnerved with how much Routh looked and acted like Reeve. There are a few of those moments in Man of Steel as well.

 I wanted not to like this imagining of the Superman canon. Part of me wants to think that with Christopher Reeve’s performance, all others would have a set of really big red boots to fill. Brandon Routh tried. I think, Henry Cavill fills them a little better.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Because it’s almost Halloween and because I’m homesick (aren’t I always?) this blog is going to take a tour of some of the most haunted places in Wyoming in no particular order. Wyoming has been described as a large plateau broken by mountain ranges and is best known for its assortment of wildlife, the Yellowstone National Park, its massive size, and a place that has always held women's rights extremely high. It is the ninth largest state in the United States and has had a rich history involving fur trappers, Native Americans, the cattle industry, and vast amounts of different people coming to this land for a new change. What can be said of some of these people is they left behind their history, legacy, or families. But, what if they left something else behind? Maybe a little too much behind. What if they left their spirits?

5) St Mark's Episcopal Church, Cheyenne: A Bell Tower For A Spirit

This church dates back to the year of 1868 and the work on the bell tower started in 1886, but was not continued until 1926. It seems that the two Swedish stonemasons who were working on the bell tower mysteriously disappeared. Construction halted many a time because it seemed that a spirit kept interrupting the workers when they were hard at work. This was at the point in which the construction crew decided that it would probably be a good idea to build a room for the spirit so that it may leave them in peace. It was agreed upon by the reverend. The room is still accessible, but you’ll have to take an 85 foot spiral staircase down into the basement. Good luck with that. Who was the ghost? It was confessed by one of the stonemasons in 1966 that his friend who had been working with him in 1886 had fallen to his death. The remaining stonemason believing that he might be accused of murder panicked and put his friend's body in an open part of the foundation. So, the stonemason is encased somewhere in there, but at least he has his own room.

4) Old Wyoming State Penitentiary, Rawlins: The Old Pen

This state penitentiary went out of service in the 1980s. It is a historical tourist site now and has had a report of many supernatural sightings. The most common occurrences are strange voices in the cells, a feeling of being tense, and seeing people disappearing around corners. There was a paranormal investigation into these and many other occurrences and what was found was non-specific but included the areas of the shower, death row, the gas chamber, the hold, and specific cells (including one in which the prisoner's artwork was hung on the walls). Recently restored was the women's facility and the chapel which are said to possess paranormal activity as well. The shower area is said to hold a lot of malice and is very cold. One prisoner was the victim of a very vicious attack in the shower. Also there is a story of an inmate who was hung by two inmates and when he did not die he was hung again until he died. With how screwed up everyone was, no wonder it is haunted.

3) Dean/Summer House, Rawlins: One Pissed Off Witch
This place was the site of terrifying haunting in the 1970s. The family noticed odd scratching noises coming from inside the walls. The lights kept going on and off, but rewiring would not help. Both the families in this duplex noticed a sinister presence back by the garage. Young Mark Summer was once tossed about five feet by the Garage Witch (as the family called it). When they cornered a dark female shape in the garage black tentacles began to come from the apparition. It paralyzed one of the women until the other set her free. Blessing helped the hauntings somewhat, but supposedly the malevolent presence is still felt. Later it was found that there was a small church graveyard here in the early 1900s. While most of the bodies were moved to the Rawlins Cemetery, it seems that two weren't accounted for. They are believed to be buried underneath the general area of the garage.

2) Shoshone Bar, Lovell: A Bar of Supernatural Circumstances

This has been quoted by many as one of the most haunted spots in all of Wyoming. The sixty year old tavern has had strange electrical problems, loud banging noises, unexplained strange voices, floating money, and ghostly forms. Many of the former owners are said to be announcing they are still around by creating sounds of keys turning in locks or the tumbler on the combination safe going off. Ted Louie is the resident famous ghost who was a candy salesman and the subject of a nationwide man hunt in the 1940s. He felt a little strange when he was at the Shoshone Bar so the bartender dropped him off at the hotel, but he was never seen again. He didn't check into the hotel. Everyone searched for him including the FBI, but nothing turned up. So, now he haunts the hotel and it is almost always in the basement.

1) Sweetwater County Library, Green River: Don't Mess With A Cemetery

Since the day this library opened in 1980 it has been nothing but supernatural disaster. Electrical appliances are known to go on and off in an unexplainable manner, books fly off the shelf at night, and strange voices and flapping noises are heard throughout the library. Balls of light have been seen wandering around in the closed art gallery by the director. Typewriters (back when people actually used such things) have been seen typing on their own, gates swinging wildly by their own accord and many times the recorder has turned on by itself and records the air around it. Clicks can be heard on the recordings along with a loud breathing. The most alarming is when you flip the tape over. You will hear silence until halfway through you hear a girl scream, "Hello." Maintenance has also reported a ghost hanging around in the multipurpose room at night. When it was looked at directly it flew towards the ceiling and made a large popping noise when it hit the ceiling. There is a reason for these occurrences. It seems that the library was built on a cemetery from the 1860s. Graves were moved in the 1920s but bodies were missed and they kept coming up in the 1940s and then again in 1983 and then in 1985 a child's coffin was found also. (Note to self: NEVER, EVER, EVER build something over a graveyard.)

Sources:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

It's Official...

It’s official. I signed the contract with The Wild Rose Press for my second historical romance novel. This novel is the book that I started last November for NaNoWriMo, a novel that haunted me for days on end until I finished it. I didn’t get it finished during November but after the fall semester ended and I could devote myself full time to writing, I wrote the last two thirds of that novel in less than two weeks. I couldn’t write fast enough.

On the way home from teaching today I found myself smiling. Okay, it was more like grinning from ear to ear. A.J. and Alli’s story is going to be published. My favorite couple will have their own cover, their own novel, and I get to share them with the world.

I shouldn’t have favorites. It almost feels as if I’m picking favorites with my children, but I can’t help it with these two. They have been living in my head for a while now, making the occasion appearance every so often to ask when it’s their turn to have their story told, and for several years now, I’ve had to tell them, “Not yet.” I almost think they’ve felt unloved and neglected.

They truly are my favorite couple. Alli is strong. She never loses her sense of who she is and she knows full well what her weaknesses are. Yet, she’s resilient and able to roll with the punches. She also never really loses her faith in her fellow man, despite being hunted down by a man who needs to see her dead to protect his reign over a small county in Georgia. She’s head-strong, which gets her in trouble and she’s a sucker for lost causes and the underdog—so of course she falls for an emotionally broken, former Confederate cavalry officer.

And, A.J. is so broken—physically and psychologically. In modern parlance, he’d have PTSD. What he saw in the War of Northern Aggression (cut me some slack here—half this story is told in his point of view!) and what he survived in a Union run prisoner of war camp would scar just about anyone’s psyche. In spite of the damage and the toll taken, A.J. is the most honorable character I’ve ever envisioned or wrote. Under the definition of “honor” in the dictionary I imagine his picture.

The story of my two favorite characters, my favorite couple, is being polished under the working title Smolder on a Slow Burn and it will be coming soon to a virtual book store near you. As soon as I know the release date, I will let everyone know.


IT’S OFFICIAL!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

They Deserve Better

I usually post a new blog on Sunday evening, but I just couldn’t force myself to write and when I did, it was angry—much too angry to post on a blog I allow the whole world to see. So I started thinking about what had me so angry on Sunday and I can emphatically state what I was so angry about is the continual barricading of our National Parks
(and to the governors who have opted to open those parks on state funds, thank you! because they are OUR parks), our National Monuments (thank heavens there wasn’t a tarp big enough to cover Lady Liberty or the Washington Monument),
our National Battlefields (Political Statement following: THIS is not what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they broke free of the chains of tyranny and unfortunately exactly what the Southern States feared in the aftermath of the American Civil War), and our National Memorials (so believe me when I say the irony of 80 and 90 year old men and women having to break down barricades to visit their own Memorial was not lost on me).

I found myself thanking God that my Daddy did not live to see his own government resort to such petulant, churlish, and frankly childish behavior. Good grief, I have an eight year old grand-daughter who doesn’t throw tantrums on this kind of scale! And I didn’t dare call my mother because she thinks all of this is a good idea. (Please insert eye-rolling here…) To this day, I don’t understand my mother’s political leanings.

It was the barricading of the Memorials that sent me over the edge and had me screaming in frustration and anger at the television set. The National Mall in Washington D.C. was closed to everyone, except for a rally supporting amnesty for illegal immigration, at which point the barricades were removed for the day. Yet, when the WWII veterans arrived at their Memorial, they were barricaded out. Barricaded out of an open air memorial that was paid for with private donations, maintained with private donations, and built to honor the sacrifices of the men and women who paid for that memorial in measures much too full and far too dear. Barricades were nothing for these men and women. One old veteran said when he was told the Memorial was closed, “The beaches at Normandy were closed, too.”


God LOVE our veterans!

The men and women of our military are beyond a doubt second to none. They willingly don the uniform, knowing that when they signed that contract with our government to serve our nation, they in effect, signed a blank check for any amount, up to and including the ultimate sacrifice. Those men and women of “the Greatest Generation” knew what the stakes were—defeat tyranny or allow the world to slip into the stranglehold of fascism. That was an unacceptable proposition to them and they set about to deliver freedom, knowing full well what the cost could be. They died on the beaches of Normandy, on the sands of Iwo Jima, in the snow at the Battle of the Bulge, in the depths of the jungles while being forced to march to Bataan…and for our own government to so disrespect these men and women in this fashion is beyond the pale.

And, for people like Bill Maher to ridicule these men and women, saying that no one called them “the brightest generation” I have only one thing to say to you, sir. You owe those brave men and women, those men and women who bled and died to preserve your freedom to be a complete and total ass, a very deep and sincere apology. Were it not for those men and women of “the Greatest Generation” you would not be here today.

The people of this country deserve better than the dysfunctional government we have now. The Greatest Generation deserves better than they have been treated by the very government they fought to preserve. Our veterans deserve better.




Friday, October 11, 2013

Media White-Out


As I sit at my desk, my heart feels as if it has been torn in two. For the past week, the news cycles have been filled with stories about our 17% shut down of the federal government, about the abuses that have been heaped on the American public through the selective implementation of that shut down, the partisan bickering over who is at fault for this shut down (and I have news for everyone—it takes two to tango, and in this case, not only are the parties tangoing this country into a frenzy, but the person who should have the sign Harry Truman had on his desk about where the buck stopped is doing precious little to get the parties to talk to one another), yet it isn’t the shut down which has torn my heart. Rather it is the news we aren’t being told of the destruction of herds of livestock and horses which perished in the blizzard that roared through parts of Wyoming and South Dakota a week ago. Most people have only heard of this storm and the destruction it brought through Facebook and the sharing of local news stories about the disaster. (http://dawnwink.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/the-blizzard-that-never-was-and-its-aftermath-on-cattle-and-ranchers/)

This storm was epic in its proportions and the destruction it has brought to the ranching community. Much as the perfect storm conditions existed in the winter of 1886-87, this storm has delivered a crippling body blow to the cattle industry. In 1886-87, most of Wyoming and the Dakotas were unusually dry. It started to snow in November of that year and it didn’t stop snowing (from some local accounts) until May of the following spring. When it wasn’t snowing, the heavens were dropping freezing rain onto the snow, crusting the snow with inches thick ice. And, it was cold, the kind of cold that locals called “freeze-eye cold.”

Just as in 1886-87, this recent storm came on the heels of an unusually dry summer. It started out with twelve hours of driving, pounding rain that changed to snow—a heavy, wet, suffocating snow that fell to almost four feet deep in places. And, it was driven by winds that at times gusted to over 60 miles an hour. This storm caught the ranchers off guard. It was worse, much worse, than had been originally predicted.

Cattle and horses were still on summer pastures. Typically, cattle aren’t moved to winter pastures with more protection from the elements until late September or early October. Neither the cattle nor the horses had put on a full winter coat yet. When this storm hit, all the ranchers could do was hunker down and pray that it wasn’t going to be as bad as they were fearing it would be.

It was worse. So much worse. The losses are the make you sick to your stomach, rage at the heavens and weep kind of losses.  The vast majority of ranchers view these animals not as a cash crop, but as living, breathing creatures that they need to take care of and protect. Yes, the reasoning for that care is based on the bottom line, but it doesn’t change the fact that most of the ranchers really do care about their livestock. You can’t spend a lifetime breeding any kind of animal for the best possible combination of genetics and not come to view them as more than just a herd of cattle. You can’t spend eighteen hour days, most of the time for all three hundred and sixty five days of the year, taking care of these animals and not form an attachment to them. You can’t be out in the freezing cold assisting a cow to have her calf, out in the blistering heat to make sure water is available, or bottle feeding a calf that has been orphaned or pulled off the mother because she can’t nurse it without growing to care deeply about these animals. (http://realamericancowboymagazine.com/2013/04/17/ryan-mcconnel-on-the-pbr-comeback-trail/)

As someone who writes western historical romances, I have a soft spot in my heart for modern day cattle ranchers and have a tiny inkling of what they endure on a daily basis to make the ends meet. Most ranchers are not rich. Most walk a razor’s edge between solvency and literally losing the ranch. This storm may push some of these ranchers over that edge.

I’m asking the readers of my blog to share these links. Make others aware of what has happened. At the end of the linked article for Real American Cowboy are links to help these folks out. If you can, great. I’ll say “thank you” in advance.




Sunday, October 6, 2013

Coloring in the Past

I’m at a bit of a wall right now (I refuse to call it writer’s block—even if that’s what it is), so I’ve been playing on Reddit and I’ve found the most amazing page there. On this page, members take old photographs and colorize them. Now, when the old black and white movies were colorized, I wasn’t all that impressed. I am, on the other hand, impressed by a lot of the photographs here. (http://www.reddit.com/r/ColorizedHistory/)

I spent the better part of an hour wasting time and looking at pictures. I was impressed by several things—the least of which was the clarity of the photographs. Colorized or not, the clarity was just incredible. Details such as individual hairs and even the texture of skin was visible in many of these old photos. Who knew that those old photos could capture such detail?

I looked at a lot of Civil War era photos and was impressed with the gravity the subjects seemed to carry. Because of the photographic process of the period a smile would be almost impossible to hold, yet there was a deep sense of gravitas that each subject brought to the sitting. It just wasn’t that they didn’t want to try to hold a smile for several long seconds and try not to move at the same time. It was something else in these pictures, something deeper, more profound. Many of the portraits taken of these men were the only photographs that would ever be taken of them in their lifetimes. Very few families could afford photographs and I think many of these young men—despite the brash claims of a war being over in six months and being home by Christmas—understood that war can be and is deadly. Part of that gravity in those photographs was the fear they were trying to mask.

Anyway, go take a look. The images are amazing and humanizing.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Just That Land

Right at this very moment, it’s 44 degrees in Laramie, it’s raining and that rain is expected to turn into snow by the morning and continue snowing for most of the day. I keep looking at the weather forecast for the area, noting the 18 or more inches of snow forecast for the area around Medicine Bow and I realized something. 

I’M STUCK IN INDIANA!

Yes, I just wrote that I’m stuck in Indiana. I’m stuck in the Midwest where it’s still green, even though the fall foliage is beginning to reveal itself. I’m stuck where it’s still in the mid to upper 80s. I’m stuck where there are four seasons, not the seasons of “road construction, almost winter, winter, and still winter” although three of the seasons here in Indiana could also be called “road construction.”

It’s being stuck when I came to the very hard conclusion that no matter how lovely it is here in Indiana, no matter the opportunities, it’s not where I really want to be. It’s being stuck when the drive into work through some of the small hills and low areas reminds me very much of the terrain in areas around Laramie that I love so much. It’s being stuck when you’ve got the property (currently being rained on and later to be snowed on tonight) and you can’t be there to watch the snow cover the broom, sage, and cactus plants because all that is on that property is broom, sage, and cactus. There’s no well, no electricity, no home, no kennels for the dogs, no coop for the chickens…just that land.


Just that land which holds my heart, calls to me, grounds me, allows me to recharge the spiritual batteries. Just that land which is so harsh and unforgiving and so incredibly beautiful in its stark desolation. Just that land which spreads out before the eyes and fades into the night to be illuminated by a million stars and silvered moonlight. Just that land getting ready to slumber the winter away under a mantel of white, purpled and blued in the shadows cast by the small ridges cutting through it. Just that land…

Some time ago, when I first wrote The Devil’s Own Desperado, I wrote of how much Amy had come to love the land. No matter how careful we are, a part of who we are as authors spills over into what we write. My love of Wyoming is what spilled over into Amy.

I want to go home. I don’t want to be here.



Friday, September 27, 2013

Confession time

I have a confession to make. I really, truly don’t like living in populated areas. I never have. I grew up in the suburbs just south of the city of Chicago, in a place called South Holland. And, I hated it! With a passion, I hated it. Hated it so much that by the time I was fourteen, I promised myself I was going to get out of there and NEVER again live in anything that even resembled suburbia.

I hated watching houses go up in the small subdivision I grew up in because for every house that went in, a little bit more of the wild places that I played in, explored, day-dreamed in, and had adventures (some real, most make-believe) disappeared. The trees came down, the marshy spots were filled in, the tall grasses became manicured lawns, and the stars were less and less visible at night.

I have lived away from cities and suburbia since I left my childhood home those many years ago. And, I don’t miss all that concrete in the least. I don’t miss the regimented manner of sectioning off life. Anyone who has seen my garden on the pool deck understands that even though I’m constrained by the concrete of the in-ground pool and the fence which surrounds the pool (I do have dogs and children here), I have the flower beds by the pool planted with a profusion of wild flowers which are not segmented, regimented, and constrained. I have several different types of Echinacea and I’ve allowed them to grow as they will, where they will. My Indian Blanket (gaillardia) is gradually filling in the empty spots left when I had to cull all of my hollyhocks due to a severe infestation of rust. I have several Russian sage plants that have spread, defining the fence around the pool, their branches pushing through the weave to dance with lavender wands. The latest addition to the flower bed is a variety of Baptisia that is called “purple smoke” and I am in love with this plant. It grows as a large bushy plant that dies back in the winter. Once the flowers are spent, it forms black seed pods.  


The rock garden between the house and the garage follows flowing lines and keeps many of the large rocks we have brought back from Wyoming on our annual trip. I’ve broadcast cleome and verbena in the gravel and allow both to grow almost anywhere they wish in the rock garden, except for right along the stepping stones that lead from the breezeway to the pool, as cleome does have tiny thorns along its stem and it does hurt when it snags an unwary swimmer heading to the water. While I have many plants in planters, it is the cleome and the verbena which fill in a lot of the space between the planters.

The latest addition to the “landscaping” is a rock garden in the front yard, and again, it is a series of gentle curves nudging into the grass. I’ve planted perennials in that rock garden, too, plants that will grow and spread as they mature. I'm planning to put in a few more Russian sage plants near the tree stump of the old blue spruce which gave up the ghost a few years ago.


It’s getting to the time of year when the flowers will begin to die back. I’ll plan more perennials to plant over the winter and watch the gold finches and black-capped chickadees feast on the seed heads of the Echinacea over the winter. And, come spring, the regimentation of winter will fade away and once more, I’ll let my garden grow.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Top Ten Books

Earlier this summer, I posted a list of my top ten movies that I would want to have with me on a deserted island (as long as I had some manner to view them). It’s time to share the list of books that I would want with me. As much as I love my Kindle and the ability to cart several hundred books with me wherever I go, if stranded on a deserted island, I would have to have the hard copy of the following books with me. There is something very comforting about the feel of a book in my hands.

In no particular order, here is the list of ten books I would want with me on this hypothetical island.

1.      To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The movie was fantastic, but the book was even better. Little surprise there, as it’s seldom that the movie version of a book is as good as the book, much less better. The message in this book of forgiveness, tolerance, and acceptance is timeless.

2.      Ruffian:Burning from the Start by Jane Schwartz. This is the best that has ever been written about the incomparable filly who Lucien Laurin (the trainer of the great Secretariat) stated was “better than him.” Even knowing how it ends, and I had to walk away from the last pages long enough to stop crying, this is beautifully written. A fitting tribute to an earth-bound Pegasus.

3.      The HarryPotter series by J.K. Rowling. Yes, I’m cheating again by including these seven as one entry—but, asking me to pick between the novels would be like asking me which of my grandkids is my favorite. Not going to do it.

4.      Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone by George Black. (Taken from the fly-leaf): At the heart of the story is a great paradox: that no matter how deeply flawed these characters (Lt. G. Cheyney Doane—the “man who invented Wonderland”; former vigilante leader Nathaniel Langford; scientist Ferdinand Hayden; and Gen. Phil Sheridan) may be as individuals, no matter how mixed their motives, the paths they opened led to one of the true glories of American history. In that sense, the exploration of Yellowstone is a quintessentially American story, of terrible things done in the name of high ideals, and of high ideals realized through dubious means.

5.      Perfect by Judith McNaught. Sigh…Zach Benedict is the perfect tormented, broken hero doing his best to be cold, aloof, and strong…and Julie Mathison is more than his match. I have read this book so often I’ve had to replace it three times because it has literally fallen apart.

6.      The Mistsof Avalon by Marion Zimmer-Bradley. A retelling of the Arthurian myth as seen through the eyes of the three women closest to him during his life: his mother, his sister, and his wife. A hefty tome, but wonderful and enthralling.

7.      The Bible. Need I say more about this one?

8.      The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Campbell made mythology accessible and acceptable for grown-ups to indulge in once more. In this definitive work, Campbell also lays out the steps of the Hero’s Journey.

9.      The Stand by Stephen King. I think this was the best that King ever wrote. Nothing he’s written since has even come close to the brilliance or complexity found within the pages of this novel.

10.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. Classic early science-fiction and it’s frightening how accurate Verne was with his descriptions of a submarine and how it works, considering when it was written.


And, no, I did not include my own book on this list. Honestly, that would just be over the top. 

What books would you want with you on a deserted island?
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