Category Archives: Writing

ROAD TRIP FOR THE IMAGINATION

Leaving home on October 12, I had some thoughts about what I might encounter along the way. Home is Northern California and my destinations were many.: Santa Barbara to pick up my writing friend and traveling companion, Penny; getting out of CA as fast as possible; the south rim of the Grand Canyon.;  the Northern AZ Museum for its display of founder Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton’s wondrous paintings; ACOMA pueblo 

atop its great mesa where I’d wanted to go for more than 50 years; Ghost Ranch and Abiqui, Georgia O’Keefe’s incredible territory; family in Santa Fe, Rogers, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Tucson only to miss those in other areas; the Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque and the much longed-for return to the Sky Islands of Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains           

of which I write and where I now am…so many miles, adventures, unexpected twists and turns in the pathway!

I’ve met and shared with amazing people on this journey but the most amazing was to finally meet Cheri Saunders. It was Cheri and her husband, in the 1960’s, who first found and mined the Blue Opals here. Despite several visits to her Gallery, I’d never connected with her. After her husband’s early death, Mike Anderson assumed a very important and big part in her life. It was Mike whom I’d met and conferred with over the years as the concept of  BY GRACE took hold of me. Mike was incredibly generous with his time, his knowledge and his support. .I only knew of Cheri as the elusive designer of magnificent jewelry, including the few pieces I accumulated over the years. When I last visited in 2008, I bought presents for my women and children in our family and a beautiful hunk of blue opal with its white and tawny streaks marking its uniqueness. As BY GRACE came close to publication, friendly jewelers wrapped the piece in silver coils and swirls and hung it on a leather cord. The necklace is worn by Grace on the cover of her book and has captured the attention of all who view it when I wear it.

I went in search of Mike, my consultant, to thank him and give him copies of my books. The Gallery was closed up and had the appearance of a long silence. I approached the adjacent home and shop, calling out for him. I have no hesitation or qualms about knocking on strange doors, a pattern left from my social work career.  But this wasn’t a strange door; I wanted to find my special friend. A silver haired, petite woman, in jeans and a lovely blue sweat shirt responded and I had no doubt who she was. As I told her of my mission, I knew what she would tell me…Mike was gone. I was two years too late and the sadness hung between us. We sat in the patio and talked of many parts of our lives. These are not feelings and details for you to read of. They are special, private and treasured.

In the final minutes of our visit, Penny joined us and we were the beneficiaries of Cheri’s generosity. She no longer sells her work nor does she design. Instead she offered us the bounty of her talents and we left deeply touched and thankful.

How does travel affect you?

Is it the scenery, the people you meet along the way,

or simply leaving your everyday life behind?

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Filed under Arizona Territory, BY GRACE, Historical Fiction, Reflection, Travel, Writing

BACKSTORY: JEREMY ALTON QUACKENBUSH

I’m sorry for my absence and could explain it as due to my computer crashing, launching BY GRACE with all the detail work involved, doing readings, planning a trip that will take me to the Huachucas next month.

Still and all, I promised you a peek at how Jeremy grew into the noxious man he is when we meet him in BY GRACE. So, here comes Grace’s nemesis.

* * *

Jeremy, at thirty, is the prissy, self-centered, spoiled nephew of Lavinia Quackenbush, Grace’s benefactress. He is about 5’5’’, slim of build with dark brown hair; his mustache and beard are in the Van Dyke tradition and he spends inordinate time coaxing them to perfection. He dresses expensively, picks over his food, drinks and smokes his cheroots to excess. He does nothing to benefit others unless it serves his self-interest.


Cruel to his playmates, Jeremy managed to turn any would-be friend against him and then go crying to Maman for comfort and a litany of how he had been belittled, forsaken and maligned; Maman and Papa indulged his every whim and knew the other children to be short-sighted in their slighting of their darling boy. Often after such an episode, Jeremy’s current pet would die a mysterious and unusually brutal death. It was left to the below-stairs staff to dispose of the remains and quaff any rumors. Still and all, the staff were on to him from an early age and protected one another from most of his schemes. Even so, by age fourteen he had impregnated a young housemaid, implicated the sixteen year old stablehand and succeeded in having Papa run them both off.
Soon after, Maman and Papa lost what little fortune they had from Manan’s family, causing them to accept charity from Papa’s brother, and his wife, Lavinia. Jeremy liked the big house and attendant luxuries but despised his uncle and his wife. No matter, Jeremy successfully hoodwinked his parents and his uncle at every turn; Lavinia was a different matter. He never could read her accurately.
Jeremy stumbled through his education, often sent back from one boarding school or another. Whenever he was away, the whole household breathed that sigh of relief, even Maman, Papa, and Uncle but no one more so than Lavinia. He started gambling very young and had a nice nest egg by his second year at SUNY(he didn’t qualify for the Ivy Leagues and no amount of Uncle’s influence opened doors for him.) He majored in good times and loose women, meeting Priscilla at one school function or another. Mislead in believing she came from money, they were soon wed and he was soon disappointed.


A train accident out west when Uncle was touring his properties, left Lavinia primary inheritor of an immense estate. On stipends, Maman and Papa continued on in the mansion in Albany as did Jeremy and Priscilla; Lavinia spent more and more time in NYC. A late night fire six years before we meet Jeremy, killed his parents, almost got his wife and left him unharmed; Priscilla’s limp dates from the beam that caught her and would have killed her except for a brave butler, Liam O’Reilly, coming to her rescue.
Moving in with Aunt Lavinia at her NYC penthouse, suited Jeremy. His gambling habits exploded. He headed an ominous group of riff-raff and dabbled in all sorts of questionable activities; he had spies everywhere if it concerned Aunt Lavinia’s investments. With numerous mistresses to exploit, he tended to ignore Priscilla; let a mistress leave him, and Priscilla suffered his abuse.
Jeremy is obsessed with gaining his aunt’s estate, hoping for her death. Grace bcomes a threat to his plan and he threatens her. Lavinia knows he is not above killing either of them and sends Grace farther on her journey.

* * *

Writers, do you ponder the backstory of your characters to discover what motivates them or shapes them?

Readers, do you fill in the blanks as you read along, imagining a past or future for the characters?

I tend to do both!

Please look for HUACHUCA WOMAN, free on Kindle Oct.2 & 3

BY GRACE is waiting for you on Amazon, too!

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Filed under BY GRACE, Historic New York, Historical Fiction, Writing

BY GRACE is on her way…

I am very excited and happy to say  that I gave the go-ahead to my book developer on the second book in THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY,  BY GRACE! It will soon go to Amazon and the next step will be to study the proofs for corrections before it is made available to you and yours.

I have occasionally used a writer’s practice of writing the biography or backstory of a character. This usually happens if I’m stuck in the narrative, need a writing exercise to loosen up the creative energy, or need to move the story along.

In BY GRACE, I did this with two characters, the protagonist and her nemesis: Grace Pelham and Jeremy Quackenbush. I was aiming to get a better understanding of their characters and motivations. Incidentally, I used family names for their last names…fun to do.   Here’s GRACE

Grace was born in 1880 in Albany, NY to Elizabeth (“Liz”) and Lester Pelham. Liz died in the days right after Grace’s birth, with time to pass on her expectations to Lester. He was to do all that he could to keep her safe  and with him until she was grown; then, he was to “send her out into the world to find a place, a purpose and, just maybe, a prince of her own.”

Liz immigrated from England, at twenty, to live with her sister and family in Albany. She met Lester, ten years her senior, soon after in the store he inherited from his parents, killed in a boating disaster.. When a flash fire killed Liz’ family and she was the only one to escape the tenement, Lester and she married. She was his “Princess Liz” and he was her prince. Lester has only very distant relatives in the farmlands of upstate New York, none of whom are a resource for Grace at his death.

Grace is 18 when we meet her, taller than her tall mother, with the same delicate long fingers on strong hands. She has long blond hair and gray-blue eyes. She finished local schooling at 16 but has been tutored by her father all her life. He always read to her whether books, newspapers or the labels on museum displays, answering her questions patiently or eliciting her thoughts. They frequented the capitol, the museums, the varied neighborhoods and businesses; people from all over the world visited their waterfront emporium in its heyday and from them she also learned of the greater world.

Lester encouraged her to develop skills that would be of use and enjoyment: her constant drawing of the minutia of the world; ice skating, rowing, hiking, sewing, cooking, managing the store and its books. She took music lessons, the violin, but often left practicing to draw. She had playmates and friends all over the city but few that she could call intimate. The ending of her school days served to isolate her from most as their parents feared the waterfront and its society.  Still, she managed to meet them occasionally about town.

She has never had a boyfriend and has a romantic view of her parents love but knows little of its physical expression. Her frequent visits to the Museum of Natural History have given her the basic biology of reproduction but not the connection to how a lasting relationship enters into the process.  Grace knows nothing of the joys of human sex. She is somewhat worldly wise while retaining a Victorian innocence.

The book opens with Lester’s imminent death and the preparations he and Grace have made for her future. She is diligent under his tutelage in “cooking the books” to her advantage, preparing a varied wardrobe and plotting her departure from Albany which holds no future for her. She knows she can support herself in shop keeping, sales or doing books while she seeks her true vocation and identity. Grace has funds enough to see her settled in the city of New   York.

The quest begins.

Photo from Queens College School of Library Services Collection

4 Comments

September 6, 2012 · 4:26 pm

WHERE AM I AND HOW DID I GET HERE?

The proofs are in the mail…”Oh, my goodness,” said Little Orphan Annie and me.

I began to work on Huachuca Woman over twenty years ago and it will now, finally, see the light of day on paper and epub smaller than 8.5″x11.” Early on and for too long, I took the high road, looking for the power people (read:NYC publishers) and not getting past the gatekeepers (read: agents.) After the first seventy passes, rejections and no replies (a form of rejection,) I began to look at vanity publishing. For a mere $2-5000, I could fill my garage or spare bedroom (assuming I have one) with hundreds of my books to sell at book fairs, conferences, writers’ club meetings, beauty shops, medical offices and captive audiences (read: family and friends.) Did I REALLY want to do this, even if I could afford to? NOPE.

And so, I kept up the search for independent publishers where I passed on them or they passed on me.  And agents, at conferences, classes, forums or wherever I came across their paths. It seemed the personal connection would strengthen my chances and so I kept at it.  Last Fall, I thought I’d found the perfect match…only to have her reader pass. Whether on purpose or by design the reader’s notes were included in the returned manuscript, I was dumfounded. She couldn’t identify with the protagonist “despite the two deaths” in the pages she’d read; I wrote her off as a “22 year old with no life experience” and gave up my search for another agent’s reader.

Sometime ago, a guardian angel tried to convince me to epub and offered to cover the costs. I dithered with the same old fears: inadequate editing, wanting great quality, success/failure and a certain techno phobia. “Get on with it, find someone to do the technical work,” said Angel. And I did.

This was still a complicated process and I can’t imagine doing it all on my own. Writer friends my age have persisted in stretching their minds and joining the 21st century. I’m still very much in the 19th century with occasional adaptations to the 20th. Fortunately, I came upon a gifted man (Blake Webster: www.mediadesignpublishing.com) to upload my manuscript to CreateSpace and the Kindle and yet another to do my cover design (Kent Sorensen: www.kentwsorensen.com.) I feel very fortunate in being able to entrust my dreams to these men.

Where are you in your dream to publish?

What is/was your plan to get there?

What would you suggest to others?

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Filed under Reflection, Writing

THE LIVES OF CHARACTERS

THE LIVES OF CHARACTERS

I am preparing HUACHUCA WOMAN for publication and have wandered about my files in amusement and consternation. Writers oft-times write the back stories of their characters and then seldom use these. They are intended to aid the author in understanding the motivations and impact of the character in the story. In HUACHUCA WOMAN, Jessamond is a minor character who shows up in the protagonist’s (Josephine’s) childhood, never to be heard from again, or will she be? As you read this worksheet please ask yourself this question:

Would you read about Jessamond as a main character in another book in the series?

BIOGRAPHY OF JESSAMOND LYDIA REYNOLDS

Jessamond was born on March 13, 1882 at Fort Dix, NJ to Lt. and Mrs. Philbin (Alice) Reynolds. She was their first child and destined to be their only daughter. Lt. Reynolds was a graduate of West Point and had served in the Army for six years before meeting Alice McKelvey at an officers ball. He came with another officer’s daughter only to be smitten with Alice. They married a short 5 months later when he was to be reassigned to the 10th Calvary then stationed at ______________.

Jessamond proved to be a healthy, robust child who weathered several childhood illnesses including a bout of scarlet (rheumatic?) fever that took the lives of her little brothers in 1882. The family is on the verge of reassignment when she meets Josephine Lowell in 1886. Capt. Reynolds moves ahead of his wife and daughter to the new post where he is killed in a freak accident…..

Alice Reynolds chooses to remain near Ft. Huachuca where her sons are buried. Her Army pension is supplemented by support from her wealthy father so that she and her child want for little. Alice is industrious and not content to remain idle; she has a need to exert control over the depression that on-going mourning threatens to gain on her. She decides to start a school on the base for the many Apache children living there whose fathers, uncles and grandfathers serve as Scouts. She wins the approval of the base commander, with some reluctance on his part.

Jessamond’s adventurous nature aligns her with these children and she sneaks into her mother’s class whenever the opportunity affords. More often than not she skips the white children’s school to sit outside the window of her mother’s class and often helps the children with their homework.
Her favored dress is a pair of her father’s old jodhpurs cut down to size, a dark cap that barely hides her face and laced boots that imitate the infantry men’s; her shirts are remnants of old blouses with their sleeves and collars cut off. She frustrates her mother and their housekeeper, Leila Mae, wife of a Buffalo Soldier.

Knowing that something must be done to tame her wayward daughter, Alice arranges for her to attend the same Eastern boarding school she herself attended; Grandfather McKelvey meets the train and is taken with his tomboy of a granddaughter. Jessa lasts less than a month before she is expelled in apparent disgrace. Grandfather returns with her to the west and admonishes his daughter to “allow the child to romp and run in the open spaces of the west,” saying she’s sure to calm in adolescence;” she doesn’t.

Despite her unruly ways, Jessa is an avaricious reader, absorbing books as a rabbit will carrots. She is known throughout the fort and town of Fry(check dates) for her unyielding curiosity and unending questions. By the time she is 15(1889), she knows how to shoe a horse(learned from the smithy,) dress a deer, beef or pig (the fort’s butcher,) mix medicines (the hospital doc and the town’s dentist, ) speak Apache, Spanish and read Latin(from varied “teachers” ) and decides to become a doctor.

With support from her mother and grandfather, off she goes to an Eastern medical school and returns(at 20, 1894) to SE AZ to pursue her career. She’ll deal with mining disasters, gunshot wounds, contagious diseases, flu epidemic of 1918(?) and assorted conditions.

What makes her tick/what motivates her? Loss, grief, intellect, determination, stamina.

What does she do? Opens sanatorium in the Huachucas, clinics in Bisbee and Tombstone.

Private life: love of rancher who rejects her; rededicates life to medicine; wooed by miner who courts her with teases, hostile exchanges and sexual tension only to give up in the face of her repetitive rejection….maybe he goes off to another mining venture and returns years later, 2 children in tow.

Issues: rejected/feared by Indians & men as a woman MD, ailing mother’s need for care, difficulty/frustration staying up with developments in medicine on this western outpost.

Please tell me what you think of Jessamond.

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Filed under Arizona Territory, Fort Huachuca, Historical Fiction, Pioneer Women Doctors, Research, Writing

FROM THE LAND OF SKY-BLUE-PINK

At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.

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Filed under Family, Poetry, Reflection, Writing

TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW

The more I read the more sensitive I become to writer style, voice, use of words and phrases, pacing, use of tension, story development, characterizations, etc, etc. This sentence reads like the table of contents in a writing primer, perhaps Creative Writing 101. I never took the course but had an excellent, even unparalleled, liberal arts education at Occidental College.

 I haven’t always been comfortable with pen and paper…or my mother’s old (1930’s) Royal portable typewriter. The science teacher pushed his words on me for my valedictory speech in high school: stodgy, 19th century prose that was an embarrassment. A few months later, I sat before my first “Blue Book” essay exam, froze up, wrote a tiny page and a half and got a C+. By the time I got to grad school, I could do the first and last draft of term papers on that old Royal the night before they were due. Research, of course, was sought before that date and incubated much as it still does.

While I devoured books all my life, I’d never been trained to analyze what I was reading or how the writer wrote. I escaped into the stories, their imaginary characters and settings and wished I could write, too, but knew I wasn’t worthy.

Writing was something that special people way above me did. Not something I could aspire to.

Instead, I became a social worker and learned to observe setting, behavior, character structure, family and group dynamics and write of these in case notes and other documents. Thirty years of writing court reports and occasional ventures into writing poetry and short stories gradually led me to storytelling and getting it all down on paper. Now, I am immersed in the doing of it.

So what led me to take up the topic of  REVIEW? If you’ve read my last three blogs, you know I’ve been out and about in the Great Northwest…collecting new books. Okay, that wasn’t the primary goal but it was an accomplishment. And I fulfilled it to the brim of my car trunk.

So far, in the week I’ve been home, I have read two books by Women Writing the West writers: THE GOOD TIMES ARE ALL GONE NOW by Julie Whitesel Weston, a memoir, and THE BARGAIN by Irene Bennet Brown, an historical romance. Both are exceptional writers and I decided I needed to return to reviewing books I especially like. You can find both books reviewed by me and others on Amazon and on Goodreads.

I decided that I owed it to these writers, sitting in their writing rooms with just the computer between them and their readers, to acknowledge their work with words of my own. Okay, they got a measly bit in royalties of what I spent on their book but I doubt that is reward enough. Both are prize-winners and may not need my endorsement but I’m giving it to themanyway.  Do you know what?  They each graciously thanked me and praised my use of words; one joined Goodreads and is now a follower of my blog. The other says she will use my review in her next series of readings.

For me, this is the ultimate in paying it forward among writers: to buy(or win) the book, render an honest opinion and keep at it.

When did you last write a review? 

What did you
want to share with the world about the book and its impact on you?
 

Will you do it now?

 

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Filed under Opinion, Writing