September 21, 2015

War Is Mass Delusion

Via the Atlantic

I was thinking this weekend about war and about the rhetoric around war vs. the real reasons we go to war.

It started from a thoughtful post on Facebook friend Stephan Heard’s wall:
I just came to a startling conclusion about how I perceive delusions to work: Namely, the idea that the delusional thinking itself is safe: It is a withdrawal into the creative spaces and processes of the mind, where thought is beautifully free-flowing and the mind can conceive of alternate realities conceptual in nature, imagining things otherwise difficult to apprehend ... The struggle being that delusions cannot ultimately seem to exist outside of the consequences that occur via the delusions, nor can the delusions easily substitute for the goals and tasks a person has and can only seem to achieve though standard rationality and purposeful action. Where, then, and at what point, do the delusions become so disconnected from reality that they cease to be connected to the real world whilst yet simultaneously guiding action that exists in the real world, ultimately leading to the conflict that it leads to?
Delusions in general, while not causing harm except in bizarre situations, are dangerous, and that is what makes them so valuable, but is undermined by the traditional ways we are conditioned to think ...

I responded:
Great observation. I think it depends on the delusion. (I have relatives who believe we're descended from aliens.) I think delusion is a necessary part of the writer's process. A writer has to believe both that what he or she has to say is important and worth listening to - a certain brand of hubris - but simultaneously he or she often believes that they are worthless, and this is a driving factor in getting work done. It also takes a certain amount of delusional thinking when you start a novel - "Yes, I can write 100,000 words!" We could also talk about how war and religion are delusional and harmful, but that's a much bigger subject.
PS And I agree that delusions inside the head by themselves are harmful, even without considering resulting actions.

A delusion is an idiosyncratic belief that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument.

What do we say about war?  It’s necessary. It’ll bring peace. We’re just doing it for noble reasons.  Death is a necessary cost of political interest ~ to bring democracy to the unwashed heathens. That it’s for the best.

Why do we really go to war?  Commercial interests. Political interests. Too many young men at loose ends challenging the establishment, so let’s have a draft (both the Crusades and Vietnam and probably many other wars). Because we have all this confusing and subtle frustration in our daily lives that has to be focused somewhere, and we think if life were only black and white, if we had a goal, if there was an enemy to fight, we’d have a place to release all this anger and hate.

To be sure, many of the men and women who fight in wars are doing it for the noble reasons. They risk their lives because they believe in God and country and that they are sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  This is an amazing thing.  A very laudible, if misplaced, thing. But many soldiers (I’m not trying to speak for them, of course, but I’ve read it time and again) get over there ~ wherever there is ~ and quickly become disillusioned.

But we lie to each other.  We baldfaced lie. Since it usually isn’t us or our loved ones who pay the price, it doesn’t touch us.  It’s like cheating on you diet ~ oh, I’m making myself feel better ~ but every time you take a bite, someone dies. It’s like passing a law that doesn’t do anything but make yourself feel better, but every time, a country is invaded.

War ~ an idiosyncratic belief that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument.

Humans are capable of such vast and unimaginable horror.


September 18, 2015

What’s Next?

(via)

Generally, on the Friday following a book release, I talk about what’s coming next.

This is both easy and hard because on one hand I know exactly what I’m working on but I’m not sure when I’ll have them completed. First I’ll tell you why, and then I’ll tell you about the cool projects I’m working on.

This is the why.  I’ve gone through a long period of writers block that’s severely shaken my confidence.  I couldn’t seem to make myself make any progress at all.  Many reasons behind it, but I was pretty despairing for a long time.  Will I ever write again?  Should I just give up?  This is fodder for a longer post, but suffice it to say I’m once again facing the blank page—and actually writing.

To get myself back into my writing, I’ve been working on a middle grade chapter book called The Adventures of Opal the Hounddog.  So much fun!  My daughter was very distressed when she found out I killed the dog in Earth’s Imagined Corners.  I told her I hadn’t actually killed her ~ she just disappears in a flood. My daughter then insisted I resurrect Opal and that she live a long and happy life.  And so that’s what I’m doing, and it’s a blast.  Opal swims out of the flood, gets attacked by a bear, befriends an elephant, and then joins the circus. I’m also going to do some illustrations.

I’ve also started working on a book of essays called Stand In Your Truth.  These are very much for me at this point.  I feel like I have to write these in order to break myself out of the depths of whatever it is I’ve been in. They most likely will never see the light of publication.

Once I get through with Opal, which shouldn’t be but a week or two, I’ll get back to writing my young adult series called Wyoming Chronicles. It’s British classics set in contemporary Wyoming, with a girls' and a boys' version. The first girls’ book is Pride set in Jackson Hole, which is based on Pride and Prejudice.  The first boys’ book is Moreau set in the Hole in the Wall, which is based on The Island of Dr. Moreau. This is so much fun to write!  Young adult rocks.

Then I also have the sequel to Earth’s Imagined Corners coming up.  It’s called Numberless Infinities, and it follows Sara and James out across the Nebraska prairies supplying ties for the railroad and ends at the Massacre at Wounded Knee.  It won’t be ready for the next January publication, as originally predicted, but what you going to do? Keep plugging away.

And then I’m also working on my photography projects, and I might put together a photo book.  I also have been doing some artwork and would love to illustrate the two children’s books I’ve written ~ A Blush, a Giggle, a Smack and ZoLilly and the Feeling of Impending Doom.

I’ve always been one to have way more ideas than I could possibly follow through on!

September 17, 2015

What Went Into the Sausage?

So, you're curious about Deep Down ThingsWhat went into it?  Here is my letter to the reader that talks about what went into the writing of it.  It was a long and arduous process, let me tell, with many doubts along the way. But I'm very proud of the result. And as you know, it's just out in audiobook, read by the lovely and amazing P. J. Morgan.



Dear Reader,

Oh, what I wouldn’t have given to be able to give Maggie a happy ending, to have Jes grow into a happy and healthy young man whose only scars are those left by his troubled father. It wasn’t to be, however. The logic of the story inexorably pulled me to where it ended.

That’s not entirely true. The first ending actually had Jackdaw successfully shooting Jes and then killing himself. So maybe I did pull back a little—at the behest of an editor friend. The conversation went something like this. “The ending is too unremittingly dark.” “But Jes has to die. Otherwise no one will buy it.” “Yes, but does his father have to kill him? AND THEN commit suicide?” Point taken. That same friend said she bawled in public in NYC at least four times while reading it. Now THAT is a compliment.

The inspiration for this story is a friend and coworker who is one of those ideal mothers. If I could have chosen to have any mother in the world, she would have been at the top of my list. She had two boys, and then her third boy was born with severe spina bifida. Watching what she went through was heart-wrenching. When I decided to write this book, a few years after the darling boy had died at age 6, we sat and talked through what at happened. She said that most people act like it never happened and so it was good to talk about it. I hope so, and I hope I’ve in some small way been able to honor what she went through.

Another inspiration for this story is my history of infertility. My mother had seven kids including me, and one of my sisters had seven, and so I never considered that I would have problems having children. Then, my husband and I had five miscarriages, the first at six months. The medical rigamarole that ensued was awful. I’m so glad for it though, because we were able to have our happy ending. A wonderful amazing woman—whom I’d trust almost more than I’d trust myself—acted as gestational carrier for us, and our twins were born. Our son was born with a severe cleft lip and palate, and so that was more medical procedures that we went through. As much as we’ve been through, though, I can’t express how thankful I am to medical science and the wonderful doctors who made it all possible.

The first scene I wrote, I was actually staying in a residential hotel in Denver undergoing IVF procedure for the twins. All those shots. That was August 2005. The first scene I wrote was where Maggie walks into the room and Jes just lights up. He makes her feel wonderful, despite everything, just by the way he beams at her. I finished a first draft by June 2009. I remember because I completed it for a Tin House writers conference mentorship with the legendary Little, Brown editor Judy Clain. The manuscript was an unqualified mess—four points of view with two timelines going concurrently. Bless Judy’s heart for first of all agreeing to do the mentorship and second of all giving me such great advice. Help your reader out. Chronological, chronological! More reflection to let the reader know what to take away from a scene. Her talking with me was simply the best encouragement I could have had.

So I went back and majorly rewrote it. Because of the nature of how I’d written it—two timelines—the beginning and the end was basically written and I had to write through the middle. An odd experience, to say the least, but a good one. It shaped up nicely, although I distinctly remember having writers block and thinking, this is the most horrible thing I’ve ever read. I do that when I write—I go through periods of loving the work and then hating it. Especially when I’m not writing, I think about all the flaws.

Having four points of view presented its own challenges. If you have a point of view, you have to have a character arc. Something has to happen to that person. They have to change. And therefore all the stories have to be coherent in their own right, yet they have to meld together into this unified whole. “Ambitious,” someone called it, and at the time I don’t think they meant it as a compliment. My initial inspiration for form was actually the movie Love Actually. I was fascinated with how that movie was able to have all those different story lines yet work. I love that movie. It strayed pretty far away, though, didn’t it? Another big inspiration was William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, one of my favorite books. All those points of view tied together in a country setting. Believe it or not, I didn’t actually read Kent Haruf’s Plainsong till late in the writing process. Without knowing it, I had mirrored a lot of that wonderful book, and so when I did finally read it I was a bit thunderstruck.

I deliberately try to have all kinds of people in my books. I regret that I don’t have more diversity in this one, but I am glad I was able to have CJ work through her sexuality. Race and ethnicity and gender and sexuality are not binaries—they exist much more on a spectrum—and I find myself continually fascinated with the complexities of these subjects.

Finally, though I hesitate to bring it up, I often have an extended metaphor or theme that I’m thinking of when I write a story or a novel. In the case of Deep Down Things, it’s the story of Jesus. Many readers would not pick up on it, I think, but Jes’s story riffs on it with details large and small. I’m a spiritual person—though I’m not a religious one—and the ideas underlying the story of Jesus are complicated and compelling and timeless. Self-sacrifice, family relationships, being a good person—these all are just as relevant today as they ever were. And I find by using something like this as a framework, an extended metaphor, I can explore these subjects more deeply. I don’t think of this as a religious book or a Christian book, but I am very invested in the ideas that Christianity presents to us. I am happy, however, if this book helps someone affirm his or her faith or think more deeply about the issues presented.

My final confession is that the ending still makes me bawl like a baby. I don’t think writers are supposed to admit that.

– Tamara Linse, Laramie, Wyoming, 2014

If this interests you, here's where you can pick up the audiobook Deep Down Things.

September 16, 2015

P.J. Morgan, Fabulous Voiceover Artist


Don’t you just love meeting cool new people?

One such cool person is P.J. Morgan, the inimitable actor and voiceover artist.  Have we been working together for years now? Wow. 

What so much impressed me about P.J., from the very beginning, was the amount of thought and “character” she puts into her characters. And by that, I don’t mean over-the-top radio schmaltz.  I mean, she figures out the author’s intent for the character and she does it in an excellent way that even the author didn’t think possible.  My characters needed to be understated laconic western people, and she nailed it. You know how how authors have ideal readers? Well, P.J. is my ideal reader in another way.

I am so thankful to P.J. for putting so much thought into the voicing of the four points of view in Deep Down Things. 

Here is an interview P.J. and I did a while back.
What’s an interesting thing people don’t know about you?

Hmm, good question! I've probably only told one or two people in my life that one of my dream stage roles is Mary Poppins. There's just something so whimsical and powerful and enigmatic about her character. The great music doesn't hurt, either!

Where did you grow up?  What were you like as a kid?

I grew up in a little town about a hundred miles south of San Francisco, right on the ocean. I was very much enamoured of storytelling from a very young age. I read voraciously, and had many imaginary worlds I inhabited at play time. I wrote my own short (and often unfinished) tales, and everything was an opportunity for me to make-believe I was living some other life. I was quirky and a dreamer and full of crazy ideas that no one else thought were very funny. I guess not much has changed. ;) My sister and I made a pact that someday we'd create our own cartoon show, where she animated and I did the voices. She got her degree in animation, and here I am as a voice talent, so I think it's time we got to work on that dream!

Your degree is in linguistics and phonetics. Wow!  Tell us about that.  Why did you choose that?

My favourite subject in school was always foreign language. I absorbed language books as quickly as I could, reading about ancient and modern Greek, Mandarin, German, etc. before they even started us on Spanish in school. I was just fascinated with other languages - the way they sounded, the mystery of them, how the sounds felt in my mouth, whether people who spoke another language still thought in English (yes, I really had to wrap my mind around that one as a kid!). Linguistics was just a natural fit in college. My favourite subject was Phonetics, particularly the articulatory branch, which looks at how speech sounds are actually produced in the vocal tract.

Who’s your favorite linguistic theorist and why? (I was pretty taken with Saussure.)

I'm going to kind of cheat on this one and talk about my favourite linguistic phenomenon, though I did indeed enjoy learning about Saussure! The one thing that stuck with me the most from my undergraduate studies was the study done by McGurk et al. in the 1970s (about the McGurk effect), and shed some light on how important visual cues are to speech perception. We tend to think that most of verbal communication is auditory, when in fact most people rely heavily on visual input to make sense of what another person is saying. This is why many people are so uncomfortable on the phone, where those visual cues are missing. As a voice actor, this is a very interesting thing to think about, especially when narrating audiobooks. You have to use your voice to convey so many things - emotion, tone, action, setting, on top of enunciating in a way that is intelligible, without sounding stilted, and still tell a story in a way that a listener can easily understand and stay connected with.

You’ve done a lot of fabulous things ~ acting, voice acting, puppets, and writing.  What do you think those have in common and why are you drawn to them?

The underlying thread for me is storytelling. There's a bit of it in everything I do. I love to bring others' stories to life, as well as tell my own. Each medium has a slightly different appeal, but I've never been able to decide which one I like best. I hope to keep doing all of them throughout my life. Storytelling for me is one of the ultimate acts of creation, and an essential part of what it means to be human.

Do you have an origin story?  In other words, can you think about something that happened in your childhood that fundamentally shaped who you are and what you do?

My mom taught me to read and write when I was three, by having me narrate and then trace the letters of a story about my stuffed toy mule. She also read to me before bed every night - The Hobbit and James Herriot come to mind - and instilled in me a great love for words and stories. I've never been able to stop reading and writing since unlocking that magic.

Talk about creating How to Be a Man (the previous book of mine she voiced). What were your first impressions? What did you enjoy about it?  What challenged you?

I'm fascinated by gender roles and norms - how they've changed, how we obey and break them, the effect they have on people and their relationships with others. I stumbled on the synopsis for How to Be a Man while shopping for a project on ACX, and bookmarked it for about a week. I had only done public domain work for the past five years, since leaving my job where I worked with a lot of commercial voiceover, so I wasn't sure how I would fare in the realm of commercial narration. How to Be a Man seemed like a project that would keep me interested through the long hours of recording and editing, and that maybe needed a voice more like mine, instead of the seductive, sometimes over-the-top tones of many commercial voice talents. I submitted an audition on a whim one night, and was completely overjoyed to find a recording contract in my inbox not long after. I really enjoyed the long, intimate evenings spent huddled in my recording booth with the manuscript, getting to know the characters inside and out and connecting with them and what they were saying. I loved the diversity of the stories, and how each one took me to a different place. I found by reading them aloud, they came to life for me in a way that stories don't always do when read silently off the page. The biggest challenge was probably having to edit all that audio! For each finished hour, it takes between six to ten hours of work. I learned a lot of tricks in the process to speed things up, but it was a real process! I've certainly come out the other side a much more proficient audio editor, though.

You’re a writer too.  What do you write?

Most of my writing is done every November during National Novel Writing Month. Writing sadly slips to the back burner for me all too often, with all my audiobook, theatre, and film projects. It's still such a driving force in me that I keep returning to it, though. When I'm not penning a novel in thirty days (or making half-hearted stabs at editing them), I also journal somewhat allegorically about my life through the adventures of a pirate lass named Captain Pen.

Finally, if someone wanted to get into voice acting, do you have any advice for them?

If you have an interest in narration in particular, I highly recommend Librivox (www.librivox.org). It's the audio book version of Project Gutenberg (an enormous digitised collection of public domain books at www.gutenberg.org). Volunteer readers from around the world narrate public domain books and put them up for free download in the catalogue. The wonderful thing about it is, anyone can sign up to read, regardless of experience. There are very active and helpful forums to help you get set up with a basic recording environment, learn how to read aloud, edit audio, produce it, etc. It was a wonderful and supportive place to get my feet wet. If you have any specific questions, I'm more than happy to help, as well. I'm on Twitter (https://twitter.com/listentopj), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authorpjmorgan), and at listentopj.com, where I hope to start some blog content soon about my adventures in the world of VO!

And if this post inspires you to check out P.J.'s work, here's where you can pick up Deep Down Things.




September 15, 2015

Audio Sample of 'Deep Down Things'


So you're a bit intrigued by the novel Deep Down Things?  You'd like a taste?  Click here to listen to the first part of P. J. Morgan's wonderful reading.

And if you like it, the full version is available here:

iTunes

I hope it's a good listen!

September 14, 2015

Audiobook of 'Deep Down Things' Available Now!



Hello, Campers.

I wanted to officially announce the audiobook version of the novel Deep Down Things!

Here's a little about the novel.  It's an emotional roller coaster ride.
Deep Down Things, Tamara Linse's debut novel, is the emotionally riveting story of three siblings torn apart by a charismatic bullrider-turned-writer and the love that triumphs despite tragedy. From the death of her parents at 16, Maggie Jordan yearns for lost family while sister CJ drowns in alcohol and brother Tibs withdraws. When Maggie and an idealistic young writer named Jackdaw fall in love, she is certain that she's found what she's looking for. As she helps him write a novel, she gets pregnant, and they marry. But after Maggie gives birth to a darling boy, Jes, she struggles to cope with Jes' severe birth defect, while Jackdaw struggles to overcome writer's block brought on by memories of his abusive father.

I'm so excited about this ~ I can't tell you.  It's read by the inimitable P.J. Morgan. P.J. is this amazing voice actor who goes that extra mile.
P.J. has a bachelor's in linguistics, with an emphasis on phonetics. Speech sounds and language as both a phenomenon and a science fascinate her. She has many years of stage and screen experience and a love for the written word. She loves reading audiobooks, and using her voice to tell stories. She is also an author, working towards publication of her first novel and has done NaNoWriMo for many years. You can find her at listentopj.com or penelopejmorgan.com.
So this is my teaser-trailer post to the audiobook version. Later in the week, I'll post a snippet of P.J.'s wonderful rendition, I'll talk a little about P.J. and then about the four points of view in the novel and how she nailed it,  I'll talk a little about how the novel was written, and more.  I hope you enjoy it!

In the meantime, the audiobook is available here:



June 18, 2015

UW Summer High School Institute



In 1985, I was a high school sophomore, and I was honored to be invited to the very first Summer High School Institute at the University of Wyoming.  I can’t express how wonderful it was.

First of all, I was an emotional wreck.  I had just broken up with my first boyfriend, and, you know, my childhood. At HSI we had small group where we would get together and talk about our emotional lives. It was the first therapy I had in my life, and it probably saved me.

And the amazing classes I took.  It’s three weeks long, and as part of it you take college courses.  I was introduced to N. Scott Momaday and Chinua Achebe and got to experience Numerical Imaginings. And I got FREE BOOKS (which I still have)! 

And my fellow instituters were and still are amazing.  Pete Simpson Jr, Al Simpson’s nephew, was in that class. They all were so smart and amazing.  I haven’t kept in touch with them, but now I wish I would have. This year, we're celebrating the 30th anniversary of HSI.

And now, they invited me back to teach a writers workshop, which I did yesterday.  It was so great! The kids are whip smart and so much fun.  Their creativity oozes out of them, let me tell you! They have bright futures ahead of them.

There were two classes, and I planned three exercises for each but was only able to accomplish two in the hour we had.  First, I took the first couple sentences of some famous books and then they added sentences and passed them to their left and added to other stories. So much fun! Then they interviewed each other and wrote each others’ Life Story on a Postcard, a la Michael Kimball.  The third exercise was going to be writing their own life story in third person as a fairy tale, but we didn’t get to that.

All I can say is: You people who are cynical about the younger generations, you shouldn't be.  This happens every time I work with young people. I realize how amazing and hopeful and positive they are. They were all avid readers and great writers and motivated and wicked smart.

Our future is so bright, I gotta wear shades!

June 17, 2015

'The Adventures of Opal the Hound Dog'



While we were on vacation in South Carolina last week, I was telling someone about Opal the redbone hound dog in my novel Earth’s Imagined Corners.  You know how it is. In order to make death real in a book, you actually have to kill someone off.  And so, in this case, I had to kill the lovely Opal. 

My daughter heard and was very upset. “You killed the dog?” she said.

I explained that you don’t actually see the dog dead, but the last glimpse you see of her is on top of a house in a great flood as the house rolls over.  So she may not actually be dead. She may have swum to safety.

“Mom, you have to write another book about just Opal,” my daughter said. “She has to swim to safety and have a long life and then meet up with Sara’s cousin at the end.”

And, so, guess what I’m doing? I’m writing a fun children’s book called The Adventures of Opal the Hound Dog.

And so you can get a taste of Opal’s life, here is where we meet Opal.
As Sara and James made their way home, they saw a young girl in a white pinafore walking along dangling two red puppies with big floppy ears from her arms and talking to a man on the street. The man listened to what the girl said but then shook his head and walked off. As Sara and James came by, the girl turned to them and said, “Would you like a puppy? They don’t cost nothing. My papa says he’s going to throw them in the river if I don’t find someone to take them on.” At closer view, the puppies were indeed small but older than Sara had first believed. They were just beginning to lengthen into grown dogs.

As the full day of liberation left Sara with such a good feeling, she did not want to let this pass—it seemed like a good omen—so she said spontaneously, “Of course, we would love to have such fine specimen of a dog. That’s so kind of you to try to save them.” Relief crossed the girl’s face, who said, “Would you take two, then?” Sara considered it but then glanced at James’s face, which was contained but set. James did not want one dog, much less two. “Oh!” Sara said. “James, would a dog be all right?” James did not respond, so she said, “It could be my birthday present. Please? Just one.” He stood for a minute and then relented with a small shake of his head. Sara turned to the girl. “I’m sorry, but we can only take one of them off your hands.” The girl handed over the larger of the two, a female, and Sara took its wriggling mass into her arms. Its skin felt too big for its body, which was warm and solid and alive, and Sara was immediately overcome with a maternal kind of love. “I think I’ll name you Opal,” she said. She turned to James and said, “Opal was my mother’s name.” He nodded, smilingly resigned to the new acquisition. Sara hummed the whole rest of the way home, holding close the alternately limp and wriggling warm body.

Opal filled their little apartment with enthusiastic motion. When first set down, she immediately put her nose to the floor and seemed led by it on a meandering path all through the space. It was as if the nose had a mind of its own and the dog’s body merely followed on a tether. Opal nosed under the bed and behind the stove and put her paws up on the shelves and tried to sniff the dry goods. She made her way over to the bed and tried to leap onto it but made it only halfway before flopping onto her side on the floor. She stood back up and shook herself, undaunted, and continued to sniff about. After a time, even James seemed charmed by her earnest zeal as she nosed his ankles.
This is the last time we see Opal.
But then James heard the strangest sound. It was low and then undulated higher, and he realized that it was the baying of a hound dog. He twisted to look behind him, upstream, and there, canted at an angle, was the roof of a building, the very peak jutting from the water. On the peak stood a wet red dog, baying. It could not be, but it was. Opal stood there straddling the peak, her head facing downstream. She lifted her muzzle once more, and the sound of her baying voice was time-delayed coming over the water. James searched beside her and what little he could see of the roof, but there was no one else. It was a relief, but then it was not. “Opal!” James screamed. “Ooooh-paaall!” The dog turned its head in his direction as the building swept past the tree, not too close, but the dog did not seem to see him, and then her head turned back downstream to what lay in her future. Just then the building rolled in the water, and James lost sight of the dog’s form behind the tipping roof and then the walls that followed. That was the last he saw of her, though he frantically searched the waters nearby. At that, something broke within him, and he began to cry, though the sound of his loud convulsive sobs were drowned out in the roar and his tears mingled with the rain.
And here is the beginning of Opal’s continuing adventures.
Opal the hound dog stood on the peak of the house roof as the flood raged around her. The house swayed and shook underneath her as it swept down the wide expanse of the Missouri River.

She lifted her muzzle and let out a long mournful howl.

Under the overwhelming muddy smell of the flood, Opal could smell other things, like dead bloated cows and freshly felled trees and even, once, a soggy loaf of fresh-baked bread.

Opal had a really good nose.  She was a redbone hound dog, after all, and she could smell a raccoon track ten days gone.  She could tell you if a bird flying by had nestlings and if a person was likely to pat her on the head or swing a boot.

The house lurched underneath her and she was thrown forward into the roiling river.  The water was cold as it hit her and she gasped just as her head sank below a wave. She kicked hard and her back legs connected with something under the water, and so she shot upward and her head broke the surface. She gasped again, welcomed air flooding her lungs.

She kicked and paddled and kicked, and often a wave threatened to bowl her over or an undertow threatened to pull her down.  But she kept going. She knew she couldn’t swim upstream, and downstream kept her in the middle of the maelstrom, and so she swam at a crooked angle until finally, exhausted, she paddled into a quiet sandy eddy.

She pulled her bone-tired body out of the water and, too tired to even shake, she found the curve of a tree root a safe distance from the water. She curled up and slept.
I’m having such fun with it!

June 15, 2015

Those Charming Out-of-the-way Places


My Sister's Books

One of the things I love to do when I go to other places is to discover those little local places.  I generally don’t like the big touristy things but go for the things that feel more authentic, those places where the locals go.

For example, when I was in London, I went to the museums, which were free by the way, and instead of being drawn to the Crown Jewels with their dramatic music and pomposity, I loved the Medieval ironworks and the tapestries and the death mask of Napoleon. The real things.  What people used every day.

In South Carolina on the last day, my wonderful mother-in-law and I went on a trek to find a used book store, and we scored!  We found My Sister’s Books in Pawleys Island.  What a great bookstore!  Books stacked neatly floor to ceiling.  Even the bathroom was stacked floor to ceiling with books, and you had to reach through them to find the light switch.

And the two proprietors were so friendly and helpful.  Mom and I picked up books for the kids (including It’s Like This, Cat and Island of the Blue Dolphins, which I loved as a kid myself).  They also turned us on to Jojo Moyes Me Before You. Mom’s reading it now, and then I’ll read it. I can’t wait!

The Hammock Shops

Then they turned us on to the Hammock Shops.  How wonderful and charming! “Less mall, more magic.” It’s a bunch of shops rambling around in some trees. It felt like an elf village. We went into the Christmas store and found their world famous fudge (Yum!) and then watched the wonderful craft of the hammock maker. He was a character and told the story of how he learned to make hammocks while he weaved away.  Apparently he learned from two different people, one of which was an old Russian who he needed a translator for.

Funny thing is, we’ve had this great hammock for years that we finally had to throw out last year because it had worn through. Turns out, it was from this place. Small world.  We’re going to order another.

And now, the hammock weaver Marvin Grant.

June 12, 2015

'Surrender to an Age of Bravery and Honor'



Medieval Times!  Where you can experience a Medieval joust and dinner.  We went for the first time last night.  I went with an open mind ~ half expecting to be disappointed and half expecting to be wowed. 

I was wowed. Maybe not for the reasons you’d expect though. 

I wasn’t excited by the spectacle.  What really was so cool about the performance was the sheer athleticism and skill of the knights and the horses and the falcon.  The knight actually did what knights did all those years ago.  They were expert horsemen and they hooked tiny rings on the ends of their lances.  The swordfighting was choreographed, but it was vigorous and sparks flew from the metal swords.  So cool.  The jousting was real.  I’m sure there are lots of protections in place, but the lances shattered as the knights aimed for each other’s shields.  


And the animals. Oh my gosh.  The horses were amazing.  So well trained yet full of get up and go.  You could really tell the knights who had been at this for a while and those just starting out by the way they set in the saddle.  The falcon swooped over the crowd and took the lure.  She was amazing.  Every year people get gored by buffalo and stomped on by moose in Yellowstone Park. They think of these creatures as what you see on the screen.  But these are living breathing creatures with minds of their own.  It’s not like driving a car.  It’s more like training a dog.  They may or may not do what you want them to, and if you’re not careful, you will get injured. Horses are like very large and powerful toddlers who get very scared and uncontrollable very quickly.

I also think modern movies and cartoons have taken away the awe of physical feats.  We see these amazing things in cartoons or in computer animation and we think they’re real, and so when we see real people doing real things, we think they’re boring. Yet we know we couldn’t perform them.  We’re not as grounded.  Our imaginations have been fed so much that we lose touch with everyday miracles.


So it wasn’t the campy Medieval pageantry that moved me, though that was fun.  I liked the food, though some didn’t.  “Baby dragon, but it tastes like chicken,” our server Bryn told us.  He was great ~ the perfect blend of Southern and British accents.  No, it was the amazing physicality of it all.

My daughter, who’s sometimes too cool for school, said she wasn’t going to cheer, but she was swept away with it all, especially when she got a carnation thrown to her from our knight.  She loved it, as did my son.  But she said ~ and I agree with her ~ “If this had been real, it would be gruesome.”  Makes you think sometimes that we really aren’t so civilized, you know?


But our fabulous black and white knight won (just as the script told him to).  Here’s the character’s story:
Don Iofre Santa Creu is the defender of the ancient shrine at Santiago de Compostela. Adorned in Black & White, he is mightiest in skill among an order of warrior priests whose arrival upon the field brings despair to the impure of heart. In prayer, humble. In service, loyal. In battle, invincible!

The actor playing the black and white knight was so great, so athletic, so in character.  Fabulous. He was of Asian descent with long flowing black hair. Our charming and dynamic champion!!

 

June 11, 2015

Clarissa Dickson’s Wright’s memoir ‘Spilling the Beans’



What do you do on summer vacation?  Beach Read!

I’m just finishing up Clarissa Dickson Wright’s memoir Spilling the Beans.  You know Clarissa, right?  She’s one half of the dynamic duo, along with Jennifer Patterson, of the television cooking show Two Fat Ladies. God, I love that show.

Part of the charm of the show is their outspokenness.  I’m sure people watched just to see what politically incorrect things Clarissa particularly but Jennifer too would say.  They had strong opinions and weren’t afraid to say them.


Clarissa’s memoir is similarly forthright.  Having been raised with an alcoholic and violent father who made everyone’s life a living hell, Clarissa is wedded to the truth ~ much like I am.  Not that I was physically abused at all, but I became painfully aware of the huge gap between what everyone agreed was the truth and what was my truth.  Why did these things not match?  I think that’s why I write realism ~ because what I’m trying to do is tell the truth as I see it.  Representing things with the fantastical is wonderful in its own right, but not what interests me.

But the problem comes when Clarissa’s declarations paint with such a broad brush.  “All alcoholics are this.” She simplifies things a bit too much for my taste on things that I know something about.  If only the world were that simple.  But at the same time, some of these pronouncements have great truth in them and also are very funny and wise.  But it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why they feel offensive at times.  I guess because they reduce people.  It feel very British colonial, which would make sense.  

Yet she's wonderfully understanding and nuanced about her father Arthur, who was such a lost soul and horrible family man yet great doctor. 




Clarissa is a good writer and has such a wonderfully wicked sense of humor.  She always goes for the salacious sex details, and I think a lot of the details she tells are rumors and gossip.  Which makes this memoir a wonderful tell-all, no matter how true it is. She’s not afraid to name drop.  It’s wonder she didn’t get sued. (Maybe she did.)

She goes into great detail about her alcoholism and all the horrible things she did and takes responsibility for it all.  She is genuinely warm and generous and wonderful.  And since I’m an Anglophile I love it, even as I’m hating myself for loving it because in a lot of ways it’s a gossip-rag.  It’s written for a British audience and so I don’t know a lot of the names of people, and she takes for granted that her audience knows, but really you don’t need to know to get the gist of things.

Did you know that Jennifer with Clarissa really did do a 180 on the bike in the Two Fat Ladies? Apparently, Jennifer planned to do it and didn’t tell the producer but told the cameraman to stay on them.  I’m not sure Clarissa knew ahead of time. Later, Jennifer offhandedly said that they would have flipped the bike had it been on gravel.  


Another thing that shocks me is that Clarissa was 48 when the first episodes were shot.  I’m 46.  That feels really weird.

And I’m reminded of the power of story.  A reader makes such a connection with the protagonist of a book that you forgive them everything, even if they are horrid.  When Clarissa was in the depths of her alcoholism, she was pretty horrid to everyone.  And the entitlement that comes with money is hard to put your mind around.  As someone who came from poor background, I find it hard to swallow the amount of pure selfish greed and the waste of a life in the middle there.

But I love her, you know?  She’s so charming and Brit Ish. I hope she’s happy now and with her mom (although as a realist I don’t subscribe to these notions). Bless you, Clarissa.

June 10, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Hubby!

My husband and I

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful hubby of 22 years! I love you so!

Yesterday, I told my nine-year-old daughter it was our 22nd anniversary today, and she said, "You two are so cute.  I didn't know parents could be cute."

June 9, 2015

'Heaven Can Wait'

The view from our back porch

We’re on vacation on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  We have this lovely house up on stilts, and the sea air is soft and moist and there’s a breeze and we’re all up now eating breakfast of bacon and pancakes, the smell of which drifts up the stairs into the bedroom in a quiet corner where I’m propped on the bed typing.

I could go into the long litany of challenges we faced on the trip, but I’m not going to.  For now, I’m going to be thankful for my wonderful family and the wonderful spot in which I sit.  And for the Sticky Fingers Barbeque I had last night.  And for the fact that I live in a country that I can get on a plane with a minimum of hassle and fly to paradise and hang out with loved ones.

I hope you’re having just as wonderful a week!

June 8, 2015

'In Lonely Rooms'



I took this a few days ago ~ a young mouse killed by a cat no doubt.  It blends in with the surrounding grass and makes one think of one’s eternity.

It’s been a rough couple of months. My mom is 91 and having some health issues.  She almost died mid-April with a UTI that turned to toxic shock.  All her systems were shutting down, and her BP was 50 something.  Since then, my husband came down with that flu that’s been going around and has been as sick as he’s been in his life.  He slept literally for a week. He’s just now finally almost back to normal but still a little weak with a bit of a cough.  My son tripped and bent his fingers backwards and broke his middle finger. His hand swelled up and turned all blue and gray. Then this last weekend I took Mom down to specialists in Colorado and she almost had to have surgery.  Luckily, she didn’t and that’s good.

I’ve presented at two fabulous conferences this spring ~ AWP and the Wind River Outdoor Writers Conference.  I also gave a reading at the Albany County Library.  It was all so wonderful, but stressful too. 

I feel like I’m growing, but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly how.  I’m not getting much writing done, which feels horrible and makes me a little crazy, but I feel like I’m stretching in other ways.  The kids are growing too.  Their schoolwork this year was outstanding, and their math and reading has really taken off. 

But it’s all given me a sense of uneasiness. I’m reminded of the impermanence of life and how death is inevitable and ever-present.  I’m not in my comfortable mindless groove, but yet I’m not in my comfortable mindless groove, if you know what I mean.

But I also feel incipient, like things might change and things might be hard but they also might be good, you know?  I think we’re always on the verge of something and maybe I’m just more aware of it at the moment.  But change and rebirth is hard, is painful.  Things die, things are reborn.  It helps me to think of myself as unimportant at these times ~ insignificant, as the Romantic poets pointed out.  Like Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey:

                               These beauteous forms,
      Through a long absence, have not been to me
      As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
      But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
      Of towns and cities, I have owed to them
      In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
      Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
      And passing even into my purer mind,
      With tranquil restoration: ~ feelings too
      Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
      As have no slight or trivial influence
      On that best portion of a good man's life,
      His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
      Of kindness and of love. Nor less, I trust,
      To them I may have owed another gift,
      Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
      In which the burthen of the mystery,
      In which the heavy and the weary weight
      Of all this unintelligible world,
      Is lightened: ~ that serene and blessed mood,
      In which the affections gently lead us on, ~
      Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
      And even the motion of our human blood
      Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
      In body, and become a living soul:
      While with an eye made quiet by the power
      Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
      We see into the life of things.

I don’t know what I’m saying here exactly, except that I love life and beauty and that my memories, like Wordworth’s, sustain me. And awareness of death is ever more present.

June 5, 2015

Buck Tilton, Cool Person

Today, I’m capping a week of talking about the amazing people I presented with at the Wind River Outdoor Writers Conference.

Buck Tilton
Buck Tilton was our Host with the Most who organizes the Wind River Outdoor Writers Conference and teaches at Central Wyoming College.  He is the Master of the Mountain, man, the Authority of the Outdoors.  He has written and published 43 books (43!) about enjoying and surviving in the outdoors.  Amazing. 

I’ll list the amazing things about Buck:  He’s written 43 books. (Did I mention: 43?!)  He makes everyone around him feel welcome, which made this conference one of the best I’ve ever attended. I'm sure the other presenters and the attendees feel the same way.  He’s a big huggable bear of a guy who you’d totally follow into the wilderness. And he teaches a mean class and is a master connoisseur of fine scotch.


After the conference, we all went over to Buck and his wife Kathleen’s house to sample some scotch and talk.  The night got a little blurry there in the middle, but between telling stories on ourselves about the most (possibly) illegal things we took on planes, rewriting the marketing language on the sides of the scotch bottles, and talking in very bad Scottish brogues, it was perhaps the best night for fun and friends in the history of the world. Just maybe.



Here’s his bio:
A teacher of English composition and literature, an author with 43 books and more than 1300 magazine articles behind him, Buck loves his family, the wild outdoors, and the educational process. Tilton has been writing professionally since 1980 and has had 43 books published. He is the recipient of the Paul Petzoldt Award for excellence in wilderness education, the Warren Bowman Award for contributions to wilderness medicine, and the Ben Franklin Award, given to the second best humor book of the year. His book Wilderness First Responder received an award for excellence from the American Medical Writers Association. He has written more than 1,300 magazine articles, and his column has appeared in Backpacker magazine for 24 years. Buck transfers his credibility as a writer easily to the classroom where his experience and expertise form a solid foundation from which he teaches. Buck has regularly volunteered as a rescuer at Alaska’s Denali National Park and spent a summer in Haiti teaching emergency medical skills following the earthquake.

Buck, seriously, quit being so damn cool!