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.

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

Multnomah Falls

Horsetail Falls


Mt. Hood

Haystack @ Cannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach, OR

Cascade Locks, OR

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:

Ken pulled up the lane alongside the barn to unload. His big stock trailer held a beautiful black mare with a light-colored mane and tail and a white-faced, red Hereford calf. My wife and I and our three children watched with great anticipation as he carefully led Lady from the trailer while the calf bounded past her into the pasture.

We raised bird dogs as a hobby. We had recently swapped two three-month old puppies (a Weimaraner and a German Shorthaired Pointer) in exchange for Ken's livestock. Ken was an impoverished farmer from Southern Illinois, but a devout quail hunter and a lover of bird dogs. The children were reluctant to relinquish the pups, but excited about having their very own horse. Lady was a good-looking, black mare with three white stockings and a matching blaze on her forehead. She was about 16 years old, carried her age with dignity, and was pregnant. We were excited to welcome her and the expected foal into our family.

Lady spent the first two days confined to her stall getting acquainted with her new surroundings and family. Then I roped off a space between the barn and fence, put the kids on her back, and turned her loose. She was perfectly docile, plodding around the perimeter, head lowered, grabbing an occasional mouthful of grass, content in her new role as mobile baby sitter. But if an adult wanted to ride her she was an entirely different horse. She would throw up her head and tail, point her ears forward, and prance like the young filly of her past.

She and Linda were soon best friends. When Lady spotted her at the fence she would trot across the field to take a carrot from her outstretched hand. When Linda sat on the huge rock in the middle of the pasture, Lady would come up behind her, drape her head over her shoulder, and nibble at her pigtails. Linda would stroke her velvet soft muzzle and confide her innermost secrets while rewarding her with a carrot. Soon Lady would come to her anywhere. But should an adult attempt to catch her in the pasture, she would only let you approach to within about ten feet, then lower her head, snort, kick up her heels, wheel around, and race out of reach. Even a carrot in an adult's hand would not entice her. This could go on for hours.

As the months flew by Lady became bigger. One morning I went to the barn to find her standing over her newborn foal, cleaning it gently with her rough tongue and softly nickering horse words of encouragement. The beautiful sorrel colt had a blond mane and tail. When I attempted to get in the stall with them, Lady would lay back her ears and warn me away. I remained long enough to see the colt struggle to his feet on long, wobbly legs and begin to nurse. It must have been  four days before she would allow me to touch the colt. She would always keep her body between us and lay back her ears to caution me. In a few days we caught glimpses of them running side by side around the pasture with heads held high and manes and tails floating in the wind. What a sight!

While we visited my wife's parents for a week, the neighbor's son Eddie volunteered to do our chores. In return he was to have the privilege of riding Lady whenever he wished. It seemed like a good deal to me so we agreed. I never did know for certain what happened, but according to Eddie, they got too close to the fence, caught a stirrup, and broke the stirrup strap. I think there was more to it than that. After our return, Eddie came to ride Lady again. As he entered the pasture, Lady laid back her ears and took after him as he hurriedly retreated over the fence. That was the last time he ever asked to ride her.

That's when I decided that horses have their own unique personalities. Lady could be gentle, kind and considerate or stubborn, indifferent or downright threatening. She was  always a lady--well almost always. I'm sure that Linda remembers her fondly and that Lady will always be an important part of our favorite reminiscences.

So that was my father's take on Lady. He's right about my always remembering her, but I saw her through a child's eyes. I trusted her completely. She patiently tolerated me stretching out on her bare back in the hot summer sun while she flicked away the flies with her tail. I was never afraid of her. She never threatened me. In fact, she protected me.

The story about her that I remember was when the neighbor boy Eddie tried to pull me off of Lady so he could have a turn riding. Eddie was a mean bully. No one will ever know what he did to Lady that one time we left Lady in his care, but Lady hated him, purely hated him. On that fateful day when Eddie tried to pull me out of my saddle, Lady and I decided to give him a good scare. I kicked my heels into Lady's flanks and she reared up slightly. We both wanted to pound that skinny bastard into the ground, but Lady knew I was on her back and she was not about to do anything to endanger me. And then my mother quickly intervened to put an end to a dangerous situation. But Lady and I understood each other. We really wanted to give mean Eddie a little scare. Thank goodness Lady was smarter than me.

I will always remember myself as a 7-year old girl sitting on that boulder in the pasture with Lady's head resting on my shoulder. It was a place in time of complete silence and peace--and love.

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.)

* * *

     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.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Flash Fiction: Blinders

The following snippet of flash fiction is probably the kernel of a second book that has a working title called Blinders. I don't know about the title or content. I am just putting it out there and letting it spin around in my brain.



     A cool mist had settled on the twilight trail behind their neighborhood. She felt it brush against her face like a feather. Her hair kinked into damp ringlets. Ahead, her husband Jake and their dog Jersey trotted along the path. Trail lights began to flicker on. Sonya buttoned up her sweater, turned up the collar, and buried her hands in the pockets. She picked up her pace to keep up with Jake, but she had to glance over her shoulder. Something was there, lurking in the bushes, ducking between trees, calling her name softly. She wasn’t in the least bit frightened, just curious. Her imagination was playing tricks. Perhaps it was all just boredom with the routine after-dinner hike that had provoked the curious sensation of being touched and spoken to.

     “I am here.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Three Ds: Disease, Destruction, and Death


I start every morning with a cup of coffee. I can look out the window from my kitchen table and see the mountains in the distance, the flowers in my back yard, and the birds stirring in the trees. It’s peaceful, quiet. It seems like the beginning of a perfect morning. Sweet.

And then I pick up the newspaper. The front page is almost always devoted to bad news—disease, destruction (man-made and mother nature), and death in all its forms for all its causes. I understand why people don’t want to read newspapers or listen to the news on TV. It’s mind-numbing and heartbreaking. Of course, there is news that is uplifting or enlightening. We desperately crave these stories but there just aren’t enough of them. We feel overwhelmed by all the chaos and close our eyes to the darkness in the world, hoping it doesn’t touch our lives. It does. It always does.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Nightmares

The coffee shop was busy and the scent of fresh-baked scones and coffee always made Lana feel comfortable and relaxed. She pulled the lid off her too hot coffee and looked up at her friend Joan through the ascending steam.

“You look tired. Did you not sleep well last night?”

Joan took a sip of her coffee. “Nightmares.”

“I usually don’t remember my dreams, but few of them seem to be nightmares. Most are just bizarre and nonsensical and so I just sweep them out of my head like so much fairy dust.”

“I suppose it’s work-related. I’m always getting lost in buildings and can’t find my way out. This morning I was being chased by furry monsters that started out as coworkers.”

Lana smiled.

“It’s aggravating and when I wake up, I feel exhausted from running all night.”

“Do you remember that cottage we used to have at the beach?” Lana asked.
My Crude Watercolor Sketch

“Of course. I loved that place with its quaint little rooms and window boxes full of flowers. God, the smell of salt in the air. The balmy breeze. Oh, those lazy days laying in the sand while the kids splashed in and out of the water. That was pure heaven. Why in God’s name did you ever sell that place?”

Lana shrugged. “Frank was adamant about it. I thought it was a big mistake. I never understood his reasoning. He had a dozen lame excuses why we should get rid of the cottage.”

“If we had had any money, we would have bought it from you. I really miss that place.”

Monday, June 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Immigrant

Ellis Island
We Americans like our happy endings and bigger-than-life characters. The actors—Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner all give excellent performances, but The Immigrant is a little too dark and dreary for me. It’s not just the story that’s dreary, but the filming is done in sepia tones that allow no ray of sunshine to break through. Two Polish sisters, Ewa and Magda, arrive at Ellis Island in the early part of the 20th century. Magda is ill and ends up in quarantine, while Ewa is left to her own devices to avoid deportation. Ewa quickly falls victim to Bruno, a charming but evil man who forces her into prostitution as she desperately tries to survive and reunite with her sister. Her uncle, whom she had hoped would help her and Magda, disowns her and throws her out on the street. Bruno’s character deceives and mistreats Ewa but falls in love with her. To complicate matters, Bruno’s cousin Emil also falls for Ewa. For Ewa, it’s a dark struggle of desperation and disappointment as she hopes that either Bruno or Emil will help her reunite with her sister. In the end, Ewa takes matters into her own hands and manages to persuade her aunt to provide the money she needs to get her sister out of quarantine.

It’s a film that leaves you as hungry for happiness as Ewa herself.