Technical writers or non fiction writers scribble to pay the bills and for the love of the analytical or the exercise of truth or deception.

Fiction authors write to illuminate their world or escape it.

Whichever kind of writer, it's all about staying alive and helping or entertaining others.

The Writing Life

Like most writers, I have a love of reading and the power of words. When I was younger, I read everything I could get my hands on, but I don’t consider myself well read. I consumed books like a starved person, so quickly I hardly knew what I had read. By some strange process of osmosis, I learned from everything I read, but I cannot give you an erudite discussion of characters, plots, or authors. I can only tell you it’s lodged some where in the core of my being and informs my writing.

In addition to reading, I’ve spent a life time writing---from that first elementary school composition to my college days when I studied French literature and wrote explications de texte. Along the way, I fell into technical writing--to put food on the table and pay bills. In the 90s, I had the good fortune to take a dialog class with Sol Stein, former owner of Stein & Day publishers in New York and a prolific author. That led to his California-based writers’ group, Chapter One. It was a rigorous, ego-bruising experience, but I was intent on learning everything I could about fiction writing. A few years ago, I also had the good fortune to study with another writer, Louella Nelson, an experienced romance writer and teacher of fiction writing. She provided a different perspective and balance to my writing.

My novel, DREAMING OF LAUGHING HAWK, a mainstream, Sixties era novel, is available on Amazon in print and ebook (also available in Canada, Europe, Japan, and Brazil). Download a free sample. If you like it, I hope you'll download the book and post a review on Amazon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ghosts

This month's challenge at Write...Edit...Publish is ghosts. If you have a good ghost story or poem, drop by and submit your entry or check out the entries of others. Feel free to critique my entry.

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Most of us have an uncomfortable, hidden belief in ghosts, but who can see them and who can’t? Well, apparently, not me. I’ve never had a ghostly encounter until one Christmas my oldest daughter Tonya informed me that our house was haunted.

Seventeen years ago, after my mother died, my stepsister packed up a box of items and mailed them to me. In the box were some items that belonged to my maternal grandmother who had preceded my mother in death. There was a bell pull and a needle-point of a Rembrandt painting that my grandmother had made. I hung them in my dining room where they still remain.

I never knew too much about my grandmother Marge (her real name was Inga) because she never shared any of that history. At the age of 12 she emigrated from Norway. At 18, a happy, fun-loving girl converted to Catholicism and married my stern, hard-working grandfather. Soon she was weighed down by the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood. I don’t think she was all that happy with her lot in life, but she stuck it out. My maternal grandparents were not very affectionate people. No hugs or kisses, no laughter or jokes, no interest in my or my brothers’ existence except that we be good Catholics. Something in their life experience made it impossible to touch a child’s heart.

Grandmother Marge (on right)
What I remember most about my grandmother was that she loved her things—furs, stylish clothing, fine furniture, collectible figurines. Unlike my mother, who was a penny-pinching bargain hunter, my grandmother loved quality, well-crafted things and was willing to pay for them.
So when two of her things ended up in my home, apparently she felt the need to check up on them. At that time, my oldest daughter Tonya (age 25 and a nurse) had come home for a Christmas holiday visit. She shared a bedroom with her 11-year old sister Michelle. A couple of weeks after the holidays, Tonya worked up the courage to tell me that our house was haunted. I laughed, but she was serious. She recounted the story of how she woke up in the middle of the night and saw her great grandmother momentarily hovering over her sister’s bed before vanishing. She swore it was not a dream. There was one more incident of waking up and finding an elderly woman standing at the foot of her bed, but she couldn’t recognize the woman’s face.

My take on this ghostly visitation is that Grandmother Marge’s spirit tagged along with the box of her belongings. She hung around just long enough to assure herself that all was well and her belongings were in a safe place. Nothing scary, just Grandmama taking care of business.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Watercolor: Painful Lessons

Watercolor is a very tricky art. I like watercolor because it is unpredictable and nothing can compare with the the complex colors and textures. I hate this painting, but I learned a lot from doing it. Probably the most important thing I learned was I need to splurge and get good quality paper that can handle multiple washes and scrubbing. Ordinary 140-pound paper eventually gives out and starts to pill. The paint doesn't go on smoothly. The death knell for this painting was when my instructor suggested mixing watercolor with titanium white acrylic (Liquitex Heavy Body) to repair the paper in the area of the man's right arm. You can then paint on top of it. I was not happy with the results. I think I would never use this method again except on a very small area.


The Beginning

So I'm keeping this painting for target practice and to remind me of lessons learned. As with everything, their are rules and techniques that need to be learned and then you need to develop the confidence in your skills to know when to break the rules. I'm still very much in the learning phase and frustrated with the slow pace of my learning.


The End

Here is another painting I've been working on. I learned a lot from this painting too but I think I've reached a point where I need to call it finished--while I still kind of like it. I am afraid of tinkering with it any further.



The following painting is still in progress. It needs some more work, but I have to be careful not to ruin the parts of the painting that are working.


In the end, painting isn't any different than writing. You have to have a good basic structure or the whole thing falls apart. You have to be able to hear the rhythm of words and the subtleties of color. You have to be able to recognize a wrong note or a better note. Words and paints are just another form of music.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Movie Review: Kill the Messenger

In 1996, Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, gets a tip from the exotic girl friend of a drug dealer that links the 80s CIA to cocaine smuggling in Nicaragua. Sounds like a Hollywood movie, right? It’s a true story of an idealistic journalist who tenaciously follows the story, putting himself and his family at risk. The story he uncovers links the crack epidemic in the U.S. to drug dealers who were using their profits to fund CIA-backed rebels in Nicaragua. Because the Reagan administration was unable to get the backing of Congress to support the rebels in Nicaragua, the CIA supposedly took it upon itself to fund operations by allowing cocaine into our country. Nice, huh? And they wonder why Americans have become so cynical over the years.

Gary Webb was an award-winning journalist. In 1990 he won the Pulitzer for general reporting for his coverage of the Bay Area earthquake in 1989. He was a good writer looking for the big scoop and then he stumbled upon it and it split his world wide open. He doggedly pursued the story whether it took him to Nicaragua or Washington D.C. In 1996 he wrote a series of articles entitled the Dark Alliance about cocaine smuggling which was published in the San Jose Mercury News to much praise. Within a very short period of time, however, he was in trouble. He received threats from drug dealers and CIA operatives. His story made a lot of people uncomfortable. His editors suddenly demanded on-the-record sources. Of course, he could not produce any drug dealer or CIA operative source willing to go on record. His newspaper backed away from him. Other major newspapers viciously attacked his writing. As a result of his unwillingness to back down from the assertions of his story, he was banished to a small bureau and eventually he resigned.

He paid a very heavy price for his stubborn dedication to his story. He was never able to find work as a journalist again. The movie does not delve into the examination of his facts or the nature of the threats against him or the final unraveling of his life, but it’s a very exciting, eye-opening story. Actor Jeremy Renner does an excellent job of portraying Gary Webb. The movie is based on Webb’s book, Dark Alliance, and a book by Nick Schou entitled Kill the Messenger. Go see it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

The September challenge at Write...Edit...Publish is Changing Faces. Submit your poem, art, or flash fiction September 24-26 and add your link at Write...Edit...Publish. Following is my submission. Feel free to offer your full critique.

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It is late Saturday afternoon and I am waiting for my husband to return from his golf game. I am looking forward to a glass of Merlot, dinner out, and maybe a movie. Sunlight slides through the shutters and illuminates the room as I am seated on the floor, trying to bring some order to the bottom drawer of my taboret. There is a strange kind of solace sorting through brushes and tubes of paint, the tools of my imagination.

I glance up and catch my reflection in the full length mirror on the opposite wall. It does not look like me. The image in the mirror is much younger, the face fuller, the skin firmer. My hair is lit up like gold. Good God, I wonder what makes my brown eyes look so blue. Oh, I do love this mirror, this great deceiver that transforms me. I stare and stare. Who is that in the mirror? I lose my anchor in time and space. Though the face is not familiar, nevertheless, I know it is me--me staring back at me perhaps from another time and place. I am enraptured.

A little tingle of fear works its way down my spine. I think of myself as a tall middle-aged woman, but the mirror tells me I am young and petite. I look as fragile as a flower in my long-skirted dress with flouncy lace sleeves. Did I not put on jeans and a white cotton blouse this morning?

The sunshine fades and I am aware of the damp stone walls that enclose me. I shiver and feel the stir of life. I place my hand on my stomach. No one knows. Yet. I hide it well. My Lord Elwyss hopes to get a son on me and marry me to claim my properties.  He will never have an heir from me as long as my dead husband's child resides in my womb.

For now, I am Lord Elwyss' prisoner. I need an opportunity to escape the confines of my quarters, to survey any possibilities.

"Is there not a garden where a lady may take a walk?" I ask him.

"There is naught more than a few scraggly herbs what the cook uses for stews and savory pies," he replies, hands on hips, looking me up and down with his shrewd calculating eyes. I was hoping for something poisonous for him. Or for me, if there is no other means of escape.

"I will allow a guard to accompany you."

I nod. I have not even thought where I will go if I can escape.

"Will you not at least bring me cloth, needles, and thread that I may sew myself a shawl or cloak to stave off the cold?"

He smiles at the opportunity to possibly soften my disdain for him--that I might willingly bed him.

Though he pretends otherwise, I know it is he who had my husband murdered and I shall not forget. My mind spins through plans of revenge and escape. The world is swirling around me. I close my eyes. It is not nausea but fear that grips me. I must save myself and my unborn child before time runs out.

A hand on my shoulder startles me.

"What are you doing sitting here in the dark, darling?" A deep voice asks. A light snaps on and floods the room.

I look up at this man. I look across the room at the mirror and the image in blue jeans and a white shirt. Who is she?  And then I remember and slowly I re-anchor myself. Oh, I could use that glass of Merlot now.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Columbia River Gorge: Thoughts & Impressions

I recently made my first trip to Oregon, spending a couple of days on the coast at Cannon Beach and the rest of the week on the Columbia River Gorge. It was awesome scenery. Thank God Oregonians have struck the right balance in preserving this area. Yes, there are bridges across this river and dams have tamed what was once a treacherous body of water. Yes, there are mile-long freight trains going up and down both sides of the river all day and night. Nevertheless, development along the river is not overwhelming and intrusive: Mother Nature reigns supreme. Lewis and Clark would immediately recognize the river that they explored back in 1806. It is still majestic and I hope it remains so far into the future. It is a gift to be able to hike through the woods and cliffs overlooking the Columbia. I’m sure if this river was in California, it would be fully developed beyond recognition and we would be sucking it dry. (It was 106 degrees Farenheit yesterday in southern California and no sign of relief or a drop of water.)

So here are a few pictures. It’s easy to imagine what a challenge this region was to early settlers and explorers. We should all be thankful for those who have strived to preserve this beauty for all of us.

Stevenson, Washington

Friday, September 5, 2014

Almost Always a Lady

My father died in the Spring of 2012 at the age of 90 of gangrene in a nursing home. It was a tough way to go, but my father humbly put up with the indignities of old age--dementia, diabetes, and general infirmity. A few years before he lost control of his mind and body, he set himself in front of a computer and patiently tapped out his memoirs, short stories about his life and experiences that he wanted to share with his family.

Recently, I was thumbing through his stories and I found one about the pony we had as small children. It's interesting to compare his recollections as an adult and mine as a child about the pony we called Lady. According to my father, she wasn't always a lady, whereas I always recall her as my friend and protector. She kept a protective eye on me as if I was her own colt.

So here are my father's recollections about Lady:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taking Chances: La Bestia

This month's challenge at Write...Edit...Publish is Taking Chances. Drop by and submit your entry of 1000 words or less between August 20-22. Begin or end your story with the phrase: "There was once a chance I did not take." (Please provide a full critique.)

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     Emilio stared into the dark, luminous pools of Maria’s eyes. Trapped.

     “I’ve got a backpack ready. Hid it in the corner of my closet, ready to go. A change of clothes, toothpaste and a brush.” She laughed. “I even got bags of beef jerky, dried fruit and nuts. You just say when.”

     “No.” Emilio grabbed hold of her shoulders and gave her a gentle shake to make the idea fly out of her head. “No. It’s too dangerous. And you don’t want to be with me if I get deported again. The gangs kill you for that. They already tried to kill me once. That’s why I got to go alone.”

     “I don’t see what the big deal is. I might die following you north or I can die here just crossing the street. I don’t want to be holed up in my abuela’s house behind a wall of razor wire. You call that living?”

     Emilio let his useless hands drop to his sides. He knew he could never change the mind of someone as bull-headed as Maria. He’d have to trick her.