Senses That Trigger Place Memories

Ask me and I’ll tell you, I’m not big on poetry–reading it or writing it. I’ve been exposed to more lately. Made me think that maybe, just maybe, I should putter around with it now and then. 

We live high atop a New Mexico hill now. We lived and vacationed on the East Coast in days gone by. Do your senses take you to other places and times? Perhaps you don’t know what some of these things look like. We have added some images to aid you. 

Summer winds push pinion–rustle bear grass

Breezes bounce off prickly pear–chuck cholla

Gusty wind’s wake strikes my ear

Waves breaking on the shore

The Mid-Atlantic, not New Mexico

Avon or Buxton–the Outer Banks

Warm and breezy–here or there

Hours go by, chilly gusts come–damp with rain

Temps drop quickly–a passing front

A decade ago in Virginia–here

and now

Part of a Pinion pine
a pinion pine
A cholla cactus in the foreground, bear grass in the background
a cholla in front and bear grass behind
a prickly pear cactus in bloom
a prickly pear cactus blooming
Outer Banks beach with killdeer
Avon or Buxton beach

Mashup # 1

Something different—excerpts from Waiting for Westmoreland (WFW) mashed up with blog posts from here. Or, in this case, from an  unpublished story. Why, you may ask? It came to me in exercising on a treadmill one day—in the water. It’s an experiment–please tell me what you think.

Explore the shift in consciousness/perspective from 2007, when WFW was first published. Or better, the 10th anniversary edition from 2017. From memoir to fiction—scene to scene. Places and time. Events or feelings. Those posts, some of them, will wind up in a collection—maybe novella length. Something in the writing will link the WFW excerpt and the post—perhaps subtle, perhaps not. You will find it.

From WFW, Chapter 13 Love and Death, Here and There

Finally, on June 13, 1970, Jill and I went on our long-awaited first date, a Neil Diamond concert at the Minneapolis Auditorium. I picked her up at her home, still wondering whether I should be doing this and why she had picked me out of a university crowd. Despite my doubts, I couldn’t help being excited about it anyway. Nearly to the open car door, she turned back to wave goodbye to her husband Dave, an average-looking guy perhaps a few years older than she or I. He was standing in the doorway, leaning down a little to get a look at me, waiting behind the wheel. It would be 2:30 a.m. before I brought her home. While the agreement with Dave did not extend to sleepovers, apparently it didn’t preclude wild sex. In the face of my earlier self-doubts, Jill assured me that I had nothing to fear in future amorous adventures with women. How encouraging.

Then it was on to a summer of sex. It was the best sex I had ever had, not that I had had so much sex by the age of 23.

I even got comfortable going out together with both Dave and Jill or spending time with them at their home. Not that we all went to bed together, since none of us were into group sex. We all went to Wisconsin one weekend, to visit her family, including her parents, brother and sister. They introduced me as a friend of the family, which, of course, by then I was.

Life was good, too good. It had never been so good. Five years later, when I first heard the Brian Ferry sing, “Love is the drug,” my time with Jill immediately came to mind. Like a drug, my attachment to Jill was an intoxicating addiction. It left me in a state of withdrawal when I didn’t get my fix and made me willing to do whatever I had to, to get it. I surrendered control of my heart and my life to Jill, playing by her rules, keeping nothing of myself in reserve.

In October, Jill gave me the news, over coffee at Coffman Union. “It’s over,” she said.

“What do you mean, over?”

“I’m leaving Dave.”

“So,” I began, optimistically “Does that mean you’ll be spending more time with me?” Continue reading

Fencing the Sky

Back in 2013, James Galvin wrote a well-received western novel called Fencing the Sky. This post has only a slight connection to it–a writing prompt from a Zoom-hosted small group of local writers in southwestern New Mexico.

This will likely be the extent of it, but who can say.

Big Sky Country—where the well-off buy land to get away from it all. And to have great views. Views of mountain peaks and more. One would never think anyone would be concerned with air rights, the ability to add on stories to a house or have unobstructed views without interference from neighbors. Neighbors are mostly far away in Montana. Still, some folks might want to ensure they had unrestricted rights of that big sky over their acreage. That’s what popped into the head of one entrepreneur. Thus, was born BS Fencing.

“Look, Jane, there’s our fence—20,000 miles up in the sky over our ranch,” Bill was thrilled when he saw the gossamer fibers glistening in the morning sun.

Seriously, you can see the wires from here?” she shared his enthusiasm, though she doubted the reality of a nanoparticle-formed fence.

“Yes, right here on the screen. They have a feed from a ground station for all the landowners, tuned to each geolocation. Shows up shiny when the Sun’s overhead and little different at night, when the fence is illuminated through the optical fiber.”

“Wow, cool. Hard to believe they can put that orbital fence up from that space elevator transport station!”

“Well, that’s technology for you. For just $25 a month we can see our fence anytime. Anybody messing with our view, they’ll let them know it’s our space they’re violating. Course, it’s us that must take action on it. They don’t enforce the rights for us.”

“Yeah, I guess that could run some serious money with lawyers and all. But a warning should be enough.”

“That’s what I figured.”

The fence package was an addon that came with the Big Sky Country land package. Fifty-thousand acres subdivided into 50-acre parcels, with water, solar and satellite internet available for a reasonable fee. The agent said she didn’t make any commission on the fence package—it was just a special that the owner was offering.  All she knew was the name of the company—BS Fencing. She passed along the brochure—got a lot of takers too.

The landowner assembled the acreage for himself, planning on a combo preservation deal where he could have an easement to graze cattle where that worked and ski chalets on the mountain sections. After the people got tired of cow pies everywhere and rutty roads he gave up on that plan. The ski slopes were nothing like Vail or Aspen either. That’s when he broke the acreage back down and put the whole thing on the market. He planned on moving to Alaska—a bigger frontier.

BS Fencing—one might assume it stood for Big Sky. Not really. The entrepreneur that came up with it was a software engineer with a larcenous streak. Started out as a hacker but the Feds and the White Hats were always after him. Cybersecurity was a hassle even for hackers. That’s when he heard about the land package. He had an inspiration one night smoking some good stuff from neighboring Colorado. Knowing what he did about satellite tech, he knew he could produce the content. All he had to do is sell it.

No problem creating the feed. He made a deal with an orbiting communication satellite. Just like all the content providers, they could shoot his fence images to subscribers for a small piece of the monthly fee.  All he needed was a good brochure and a small, really small, sales staff.

It all went well until some retired engineer bought a parcel. He wasn’t taking the addon. He was calling them up though. He saw through the name right away—this is all a bunch of Bull he told the guy on the phone. He knew there was no way they could be doing what they said they were. BS Fencing soon was no more. Off to another scam somewhere else.

#WATWB May 2020–Recognizing Those Who Wear Masks

We Are the World Blogfest

It’s the last Friday of a month–the day to offer good news from the We Are the World Blogfest

There are so many people and organizations worthy of recognition during the pandemic sweeping the world. Frontline medical professionals. Support staff at hospitals or health centers. EMTs, food pantries, grocery store workers, delivery people and so many more. Most of which are often mentioned, if not featured on news shows. So, let’s consider others—the ordinary folks that are doing their best to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Those are the people who are wearing masks in public. The ones who are maintaining physical distance from fellow human beings. That signifies that they care enough about the well being of others as they do about themselves. The masks are to protect others from themselves—not the other way around. Yes, it’s frustrating not being able to freely enjoy time in restaurants and bars, socializing with friends. It’s bothersome having to sit or stand apart.

Freedom is not being able to whatever one wants whenever and wherever it suits you. Freedom comes with responsibility and respect. Respect for the health and safety of others. That’s why there are laws against driving vehicles while drunk. That’s why smoking tobacco is prohibited in stores, restaurants, offices and other buildings. Secondhand smoke is hazardous.

Asymptomatic people can spread the virus to others. One cannot assume that he or she is free from COVID-19. That’s why one is not free to go about without wearing a mask, risking spreading the disease to others. Others who may die.

So, I want to thank those people who endure a tiny impediment to their own freedom by wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance. Those are not politically correct actions–they are ethically essential behaviors.

Your cohosts for this month are Eric LahtiSusan ScottDan AntionDamyanti Biswas, and Inderpreet Kaur Uppal. And if you want to read more uplifting articles, please visit the WATWB Facebook page here or the Twitter home page here to find links to other stories.

Harry and Sarah

A Dark Job

What will come of this? Something to build a story on. Sci-fi. Harry always took his coffee with cream and sugar. So what?

Sarah finished her black coffee as she always did—while still hot, before stepping out. Out into the cold night, she walked on leaden feet. Feet that felt only dread. Dread that Harry wouldn’t be back this time.

Time was, he’d go on a mission for a few days and return home. Home where the heart is, bringing small trinkets, worthless souvenirs. Souvenirs that she treasured not for their intrinsic value but for his love. Love that still smoldered after all the years. Years spent in end of the galaxy shacks but sometimes in luxurious penthouses. Penthouses paid for deeds he wouldn’t talk about except in sleep. Sleep that brought dreams better called nightmares.

He’d never been gone more than a week. Two weeks had passed since that call. It left him shaking his head, yelling no into the phone until going out into the barren wasteland—out of earshot. He sometimes talked about the jobs. Others, he told her little. She knew he didn’t want this one—a soul-blackening mission his time no doubt.

Ashen-faced when he left, Harry spoke softly, “I’ll be back soon as I can, Sarah,” looking away, “I—have to meet up with some other contractors that you don’t want to know about, out on the rim.”“Do you have to go on this assignment? I heard you yelling no,” Harry.

“Well, I’d rather not, but it’ll be OK,” he said, “I’ve been on worse—not recently, but this one’s worth ten regular runs.” Harry’s smile lasted but a moment as he headed off to grab his gear. He came back with his big duffel and carrying the heavy weapons case.

“You’re leaving right now? Why don’t you wait until tomorrow?

“I can’t—the job won’t wait. Don’t worry,” he said, giving her a nearly rib-crushing hug and a hard kiss before skipping down the stairs.

The icy wind blew cut through her coat, chilling her to the bone. Come back Harry! She had to get out. Out to the pub where she could be around people. People who worked in the mines, at the spaceport or—well, on jobs like Harry did. Did they know anything? Anything they could say would be better than staying home alone. Alone with her worries.

FREE–yes, Deep Down & Dirty Writing Secrets on May 6

A Treasure Trove of Writing Tips– FREE

From the Amazon blurb:

Writing advice that gets you started and keeps you going.

Wouldn’t you love to have authors reveal the secrets of their successes to you? You get that in this collection of essays, many by award-winning authors, and all of them fine practitioners of the craft. Their insights provide you with tools, tips, and encouragement for your own writing.

It’s already getting great reviews, don’t miss out on this helpful tool for writers.

Deep Down & Dirty Writing Secrets is FREE on Kindle on May 6th, 2020. If you miss the 6th, get it free again on May 20.

PS, Don’t confuse a free day with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited promo.

Talking to Your Characters–a Study Proves It

Majority of authors ‘hear’ their characters speak, finds study

Don’t usually do writing tips here–they usually come on the Views blog. But it’s been busy over there, so a change up. Just finished reading this interesting article in The Guardian. It confirms advice from writers to others:

Listen to your characters. Talk to them. 

Not sure how well I’ve been following that advice. I often do wind up having unfortunately extended dialogues at 4 am. Too bad it’s more often with those I want to call and engage on some semi-important matter having nothing to do with stories. “Oh, if only I’d said this.” Or more to the point getting the put down words just so.

Anyway, here’s a few snippets from the article. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to read it.

Researchers at Durham University teamed up with the Guardian and the Edinburgh international book festival to survey 181 authors appearing at the 2014 and 2018 festivals. Sixty-three per cent said they heard their characters speak while writing, with 61% reporting characters were capable of acting independently.

“I hear them in my mind. They have distinct voice patterns and tones, and I can make them carry on conversations with each other in which I can always tell who is ‘talking’,” said one anonymous writer. “They sometimes tell me that what I have in mind for them isn’t right – that they would never behave or speak that way. I don’t usually answer back,” said another.

What about you? Do you hear conversations with your characters? Maybe I do, while I’m writing dialogue. I must confess I do annoy my wife at times when I come up with the next line of a TV show or movie we’re watching (only at home of course–never on those rare occasions we were at theaters before COVID-19 closed them).

I probably do run what comes next in a story through my mind as Joe or Sally is about to speak. More so when I’m editing. But after reading this article, I must be missing out on a lot. One more snippet for you.

The bestselling crime novelist Val McDermid recognised the phenomenon, but explained that she is able to exert a measure of control. “They don’t just pop up out of nowhere,” she said. “But when I’m working on a novel, I have conversations in my head with them. When I’m out for a walk, there are all sorts of interrogations going on in my head and sometimes out loud. But if I’m not working with a character, silence.”

If you are in the majority of writers who do this, be assured–you’re fine. The report on the Guardian notes that the researchers didn’t find that any of those interviewed had any problem with mixing fiction with the real world.

After I post this, I’m printing the article and keeping it handy on my computer desk whenever I’m working no a story.

#WATWB for April–Serving the Pandemic Heroes from Pennsylvania

We Are the World Blogfest

Pandemic Heroes

EMTs, doctors, nurses, and countless other frontline health workers are treating patients and saving lives, many at the expense of their own. You see them on your local or national news, the newspaper or the web. They are the true heroes. There are so many more behind the scenes that make it possible for those on the frontline to continue what they are doing.

Here’s just one other bunch of people making an essential contribution.

Workers clocking out at Braskem Plant
Workers clocked out on Sunday after spending 28 days at the plant making material for PPE. Photo from CNN article.

As reported on the CNN website, more than 40 workers at a factory in Pennsylvania volunteered to stay at the plant for four weeks. They slept there, ate there and worked twelve hour shifts making polypropylene, a raw material for making N95 masks–as well as medical gowns and other PPE equipment.

Workers in Texas and West Virginia also did the live-in rotations.

We can appreciate and thank all the people doing what they can to deal with the pandemic–in our hearts and in our prayers, if not personally at this point.

The cohosts for this month’s WATWB are: Eric Lahti, Susan Scott, Dan Antion, Damyanti Biswas, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal.

Deep Down and Dirty Writing Secrets

Cover of Deep Down & Dirty Writing SecretscreA Treasure Trove of Writing Tips

That’s what this book is. It’s already available in paperback, but let’s skip ahead to Kindle. It will be out on May 1.  You can preorder it right nowfor just $2.99.

 E J Randolph, fellow writer, invited me and 10 other writers to collaborate on this very helpful book for writers.

From the Amazon blurb:

Writing advice that gets you started and keeps you going.

Wouldn’t you love to have authors reveal the secrets of their successes to you? You get that in this collection of essays, many by award-winning authors, and all of them fine practitioners of the craft. Their insights provide you with tools, tips, and encouragement for your own writing.

The book covers fiction and nonfiction. It includes samples of writing techniques used across various genres and for all sorts of readers.

Here’s a small sample from three sections:

From Kris Neri,

Why Write a Series:

On a purely practical level, writing a series just makes sense. If a reader bonds with characters, she can’t wait to get back together with them. Think about TV shows. Don’t we love following along with the same characters and their challenges week after week?

A series creates instant repeat sales when your second and subsequent books are published. Word of mouth builds with each new publication. . . .

Readers aren’t the only ones who enjoy coming back to favorite characters. It’s also a boon for writers. As the writer of a series, you have the opportunity to develop your characters to a greater degree with each novel you write than you do with just a lone novel.

 

From E J Randolph,

Deep Point of View is a portmanteau term for techniques that connect the reader to your protagonist. This term itself is rather recent and encompasses several methods and perspectives that are increasingly employed by story writers. You use these writing techniques when you want your readers to immerse themselves in the fictive experience to the degree they feel they are the main characters. Research shows that readers’ brains process movement in fiction as if they were moving, so your readers are primed to feel what your characters are feeling and doing. All you need to do is capitalize upon this reality.

From myself on writing a memoir,

Tell the truth as best you know it. It’s your story — write it from your perspective. Inevitably, your life intertwines with others — family, friends, coworkers or bosses. You may recall conversations that depict issues you want to describe. Words spoken by others that reveal an impact on you. Events that make up a scene.

Can you recall the exact words spoken by you or another some decades ago? Maybe not. You do have a memory of their manner of speaking, their personality, etc. don’t you? It’s OK to fill in some dialogue and event details that you couldn’t possibly remember. But you must be authentic in how/what others (and you) would say in situations—that’s the truth required of you.

 

Muriel and the Water Buffalo

Been gone so long!

Busy, busy, busy. Too busy. Things that took priority. They’re mostly all done now. 

Then came the sign. Must get back to writing. Projects WAY overdue.

Let’s start with this. I’ll be back connecting with everyone too, soon. 

Jim walked into a backyard, an unfamiliar one. Unlike the one behind his house in the semi-arid Southwest. The one with limestone broken into shards by bear grass, prickly pear, mountain mahogany, and more. This yard had grass—short, but not brown. Two women, unknown to him, sat on functional but nondescript lawn chairs. He paid little attention to them; his gaze drawn to the white-coated labradoodle lounging nearby. One of the 40-something ladies introduced the dog as Muriel. He sat down at a metal picnic table 15-feet away, expecting Muriel to come and investigate. She ignored him. He might as well have been in Silver City, where the dogs are quite laid back, disinterested in strangers.

He went inside via the back door—two steps and a landing perpendicular to the house. He passed through the simple kitchen. He had to get into town—errands to run. Light poured in from a cloudless sky through the front window. Now late afternoon, the sun would be down upon his return. He began closing the shades then they all came in, unexpectedly. Immediate and extended family—out of time and place. His sisters-in-law Alice and Cindy. His daughter, Michelle, fifteen years younger than today, and his wife Wendy.

Alice said, “Some guy called me, trying to get hold of you. Said you owed $4,400 for repairs to a car you rented.”

“What! Why the hell did he call you?”

“I don’t know. Said he tried to reach you but couldn’t.”

“Sounds like bull. Phishing, most likely. I’ve had the same number for seven years. Did the guy leave a number?”

“Yeah, sure. Here, I wrote it down.”

“Ok, thanks—I’ll straighten this jerk out.”

Jim went just ten feet away, back into the kitchen of the tiny house. “This is Jim. Did you call my sister-in-law Alice, telling her I owed you money for repairs to a rental car?”

“Uh, what’s your full name and what was the amount?”

“Never mind my name–$4,400. Now you tell ME when and where this car was rented. I haven’t rented one in several years and never turned one in damaged.”

“The car was rented in July 2019, in Norfolk, Virginia—to a James Skidmore. It needed extensive repairs.”

“Well my name’s not Skidmore. Didn’t go anywhere in Virginia in 2019 and sure as hell didn’t rent a car there. Maybe you made an honest mistake. But if you call me or Alice again, I’ll assume this is a scam and I’ll call the authorities—got it?”

“Uh, well, must be a glitch in our system. We will do some research. Thank you, Mister . . . Jim.”

Done with the call, Jim turned to find an unknown man, juice glass in hand, asking if Jim could turn up the kitchen light so he could read the calendar affixed to the refrigerator. Jim took the glass and put it in the dishwasher before brightening the room.

At that point, time was moving on to make the trip into town. Wendy wanted to go along. They drove through the neighborhood’s narrow streets, turning here and there. Finally, they came to an intersection with a highway. On an incline, the car wanted to roll back down. A bit of a challenge managing the brake and transmission awaiting a break in traffic to make it through to the other side, going left. Odd, he thought, cars haven’t had that problem for a very long time–unless they had a clutch.

After a bit, they made it alongside a very narrow median, only to wait for three people walking on the area beyond the pavement. What are people doing on an interstate? He thought. Of course, it couldn’t be an interstate. Instead of proceeding on to town, he turned off down a slight slope to a body of water—a large lake perhaps.

He began driving atop the boulders that improbably seemed connected into a roadway. To the right, he saw a water buffalo a hundred feet away, grazing on what he assumed were submerged grasses. He looked ahead, seeing another creature resembling the first. but it couldn’t be. Somehow, it was munching on the skull of a monkey—partially covered with hair, or perhaps grasses. How could a water buffalo hold a monkey’s head?

Paying attention once again to his driving, Jim noticed the boulders growing further apart—too distant to drive on. He turned the car get back up the hill but soon they were mysteriously on foot—without the vehicle. They competed with others hiking on a narrow path to the road they had left moments before. Only now, the pavement had become a congested pedestrian way, leading toward a shopping area.

They found themselves walking on bricks next to a man holding an ice cream cone. The guy reached over to refasten a bandage on the back of Wendy’s left hand. Jim was surprised. Wendy said nothing, a puzzled look on her face. The fix didn’t stick. A few yards later, the man tried again.

Jim said, “Keep your hands to yourself, buddy,” and rushed Wendy along, turning past the fellow into a food and shopping area. In front and to the left, Jim spotted an area of tables, set ten to fifteen feet apart. People sat eating and drinking. Some were listening to light acoustic music coming from a tiny stage a few feet ahead,  set against a bookstore wall. Wendy headed to the restroom, walking through open spaces between the chairs.

Jim urged haste, “twilight’s coming soon.”

So ended the very, very odd dream of an early Monday morning. A sign. MUST get on with writing.