The Desert

Someone on the NaNo forums was asking what it is like to be in the desert, so I posted this reply. I hope it helped him/her to understand how special they are.

My husband and I have spent a lot of time in SW Utah, in Capitol Reef NP, Arches NP and Canyonlands NP, as well as the San Rafael Swell and Cathedral Valley. What has been said before is true - very good advice - but one thing I wish to stress; the desert is a beautiful, amazing, humbling place. It can be so very harsh, with the dryness and winds and extremes in temperature, but when you find a lifeform in the desert after spending a little time there, you realize that if this being has survived so much just to exist there. Not just exist but also thrive enough to spare energy to reproduce and bring more life to such desolation, even if it takes surviving five droughts and seven record-breaking winters to get up the reserves.

One of the most humbling visits for me was when we camped in Bentonite Hills, Cathedral Valley. Because of the almost cement-like characteristics of dried bentonite, there were no plants and no water where we'd set up for the night. It was perfectly still; no insects and no birds of any kind because they had nothing for which to be there. The only light (other than our headlamps) was from the stars and later a crescent moon . Things were so quiet I could hear my own blood running through my ears. I felt like I was on another planet where the vacuum attenuated all sound. I'd never experienced anything so foreign in my life.

The coolest part was, when we returned to "civilization", I felt like I had been reunited with long lost friends. There was a gush of gratitude for the birds chirping in the sky and wind rustling through leaves with commonplace familiarity. I was actually grateful for the buzz of insects. Nothing makes me appreciate my senses like the feeling of having them robbed from me. I came to love the Bentonite Hills because they reminded me of what I have; life.

NaNoWriMo Update

Well...three little days till NaNo, probably the biggest project I've voluntarily tackled alone.

Granted, I've worked on big things before, don't get me wrong, but this is the first time that I've put myself under such pressure to do so much in such a short amount of time. 30 days to write 50,000 words? Am I nuts?

Sure, I am. But everyone knew that already, right?



As I was showering this morning, thinking of NaNo descriptive passages and ways to incorporate some humor into the soon-to-be WIP, I remembered a poem from high school. I had been so taken with it at the time, I had actually taken time to hand copy it from the AP English book, and anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I didn't spend much time with my school books.

The copy was lost long ago, but the Internet is a wonderful place, because there it was!

by William Cullen Bryant

I broke the spell that held me long,
The dear, dear witchery of song.
I said, the poet’s idle lore
Shall waste my prime of years no more,

For Poetry, though heavenly born,
Consorts with poverty and scorn.
I broke the spell- nor deemed its power
Could fetter me another hour.

Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget
Its causes were around me yet?
For wheresoe’er I looked, the while,
Was Nature’s everlasting smile.

Still came and lingered on my sight
Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,
And glory of the stars and sun;
And these and poetry are one.

They, ere the world had held me long,
Recalled me to the love of song.


Oh, Sure! Synopsises Are Easy!

Here is a guide stating rather clearly how easily novel synopsises (synopsi? synopses?) are composed and the best place to find both good and bad examples would be Wikipedia.

It's very convincing. Who wudda thunk?


NaNo '09 Character Sketch Stephen Montclair

I'm trying to get a feel for who my 'people' are. The male hero is a bit of an enigma to me still.

Stephen was a rich boy.

With a small sigh, he reminded himself that it is his parents who are rich, and his school mates at the prep school in which he was enrolled -- St Qualford Preparatory Academy – automatically assigned this affliction on him. Yes, they were all from rich families, and by sending a boy to St. Qual’s, they intended to have him trained to keep it that way. Even the Nuevo Riche parents planned to mold their progeny into the harsh, claw-for-it-all, heartless little bastards they themselves had turned into. That’s how they got rich; the only way they did.

It was around the age of twelve before he realized it was an affliction; death threats against his father, armed vehicles for travel when he arrived home, isolation, secrecy, even straight out hiding, but when he was a young boy, he believed there was no other way to live. His bathtub was marble, his toy boats were radio controlled, his clothes – rarely the same items two weeks in a row – were immaculately tended, and his nanny treated him with a kind of reverence that was never spared on the rest of the staff. His playmates were generally the other rich parents’ children, and they all acted like the money was already theirs. And they behaved as though his parents’ wealth would soon be theirs, as well.

A familiar sight to his left roused him from thought, and with irritation he pressed hard on the brakes, skidding the Ferrari to a halt. Be damned if he didn’t drive right past his parents’ back gate! Glancing in the dark rearview mirror, he shifted into reverse and performed a three-point turn in the deserted street. At the correct driveway, he pulled in and punched his old code on the keypad. He wasn’t terribly surprised when it didn’t unlock the gate. His good ol’ paranoid parents!

“Mummy? Daddy? I’m hooome!” he breathed sardonically in his Upper Class Twit of the Year Award voice, borrowed from a Monty Python sketch. He picked up the handset and dialed the extension for the groundskeeper’s cottage.

“Yes?” came the brusque voice, completely without friendliness.

“Stew? It’s Stephen. I’m home for a visit.”

“STEVIE!” came the response so loud and exuberant that he had to hold the phone away. “Whacha doin’ back here? We thought ya were still in school! You didn’t get kicked out, didya? You old punk! You must have done somethin’ really bad if yer sneakin’ in the back way! What kind of trouble ya in?”

Stephen brought the phone closer, although completely prepared to jerk it away again if volume control were needed.

“Stew, would you open the gate? I’ve had a bit of a drive. I started out this morning in Chicago, and…”

“Sure, sure, Stevie. Hold on while I get my glasses.”

Despite his dour mood, Stephen smiled as the handset slammed on the cradle, and he gently placed his back on the hook. Stew Pavlon had been the groundskeeper for twenty-seven years, long before Stephen was even born, and in all that time had probably never brought his glasses with him to answer the phone, nor had he ever politely hung it up. It was part of his charm. Some predictable things were good.

It took nearly three minutes before the whirr of the gate controller prompted Stephen to put the Ferrari in first gear and roll hurriedly through before Stew intentionally reversed the gate short of being fully opened, all in the spirit of security. He waved towards the groundskeeper’s cottage, even though it wasn’t in view, and continued down the drive towards the mansion.

Before he even reached the house, he knew his parents were having one of their famous parties. Looking above the trees down into the valley, the evening mist had a faint glow it got when the house was lit up and that only happened when guests were around. Otherwise, the house was kept dark and discreet, which saved a great deal of money. His parents may have been rich, but his father could pinch a penny until the head side was flush with the tail side. However, parties were always his mother’s idea. When he cleared the woods, he saw Mummy was having quite the soiree. Between the welding arc gleam of every bulb in the house glowing and the mishmash of valet-parked cars, Stephen was certain all of Denver Society was in attendance. He found an open spot by the catering truck by the kitchen and heaved a sigh. Not good timing for this sort of thing.


"Still No Sign of Land" As The Monty Python Skit Goes.

Well...still haven't stuck to my guns about contributing a piece of fiction to the blog on a daily basis in order to keep myself in order, although honestly, I have been working on the NaNo project. I'm taking a new approach to writing, wherein I will prepare an outline and generate index cards and write character sketches. With Destiny of Honor, The Trucker, and other things I've written, it was all very seat-of-the-pants, despite being full novels. I keep feeling like this one has to be more organized and professional. I just hope I don't burn myself out worrying about the details. I've never been very good about following the rules and being disciplined and all that.

Wish me luck. More tomorrow.


Didn't Make It!

Well, I didn't get that second practice session in for NaNo, although it is started...somewhat.

I managed to dedicate time to writing some interesting facts about my female main character (known going forward as the FMC, with the male main character referred to as MMC) and her extensive background in debunking things occult. The MMC is still a bit of a mystery to me (now named Stephen, I think), but I'm getting a better feel for the historic era concerned. Maybe tomorrow I'll have the practice exercise completed.

Hope you have a wonderful evening. Since I was up until 2:30 struggling with all this, I will probably end up turning in early!



NaNoWriMo 2009 Practice

"NaNoWriMo?" you ask. It's short for National Novel Writing Month. It's a writing website in which a participant challenges himself/herself to write 50,000 words of "The Great American Novel" between November 1st and November 30th. That's almost 1700 words a day! My blog entries generally run much less than 400, obviously not daily, so now I'm practicing not so much writing but more discipline to get myself to writing every day, even if it's mindless little character studies like this.

For more about the project, go to www.nanowrimo.org.

BTW, the only things true in this little description are the bit about my dad making me learn to type when I was ten, the love of horses, the ubiquitous dust here in the prairies (although our part is in Colorado) and wondering if having the TV on strictly for background noise is wasteful. I have settled for webstreaming radio from the Colorado Public Radio (KBOD) that plays commercial-free mainstream classical music, not the TV.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my first exercise with writing discipline. I hope to have a daily contribution to share with you showing my progress.

It was a strange feeling being in the house alone.

She didn’t mind being alone, per se. Despite being extroverted and quite friendly most of the time, Louisa often wished people would leave her alone. They were too much trouble to figure out. Making them comfortable, frankly, was a big pain in the ass, and Louisa sometimes found herself exhausted by the prospect of having to entertain those who made no effort to get along with others. That was a frequent problem when she worked at the outdoor outfitters retail store. She was expected to be “on” all the time; positive and helpful to anyone who approached her, and after working a full time job and driving through rushhour traffic to get to the store across town, answering inane questions like “Does this cost what the price on the tag says?” really made it difficult to appreciate her fellow human being sometimes.

Rousing herself from her memories, she scanned the computer monitor in front of her. A blank page in the word processor reflected back at her. Fill the page, fill the page, don’t think about the empty house. Don’t wonder if the furnace is too loud or if it would be too wasteful to turn the TV on to cover the eerie silence. Even the sound of her fingers pounding on the keyboard would be an improvement over the unaccustomed quiet.

Heaving a sigh, she rested her fingers upon the ergonomic keyboard, feeling lightly for the two guide nubs on the F and J keys. Spot on, found without thought. Second nature and all that. Now…

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” she typed quickly. “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” Then she followed that with JJJJ FFFF KKKK DDDD LLLL SSSS :::: AAAA.

She rolled her eyes and sighed again. God, she hadn’t thought about that in years. Her father had been a strange man who died right after her eleventh birthday, and since he had been pretty sick those last couple of months, when exactly had he tried to get her to practice typing? She recalled that he absolutely harangued her to practice the way other parents tried to get their children to practice piano or violin, and Louisa (or “Louie” as her father called her) spent nearly an hour a day with the cheap manual typewriter typing “ JFJF KDKD LSLS :A:A JJFF KKDD LLSS ::AA” for pages and pages, along with other finger exercises on the QWERTY keyboard. She hated it, sitting at the dining table with a cheap, plastic portable Corona, alone and seemingly forgotten. She would have much rather been out playing with her friends in the bright afternoon sun or climbing the maple tree in front of her house. What kind of weirdo mentally chains his youngest daughter to a damned manual typewriter at the age of nine or ten?

Well,…at the time it seemed very cruel, but in retrospect, it seemed somewhat foresighted. In the modern era of home computers and electronic communication, being able to type 60 words a minute accurately was a skill envied by some peers and desired by many employers. And now that Louie was trying to be a professional writer, the skill still wasn’t honed enough to get the ideas from her head into the document as fast as they formed. It sometimes tripped her up having to wait for her fingers to get it black and white onto the page. And the years of training stopped her from letting slight mistakes go until she could go back to correct them.

Maybe that’s why being in the house alone felt so odd. The need to concentrate and tune out distractions wasn’t there. Nobody was rustling paperwork in the next cubicle as when she worked in her previous job as office assistant for a major financial institution in Chicago. Her husband wasn’t yelling at the TV about some call the referee had made during the football game. It was just…quiet.

Previously she’d thought that quiet is what she needed. When she and her husband had moved from the bustling Chicago, Illinois into the semi-rural community of Goddard, Kansas, a fantasy of spending countless hours transforming her dreams into the printed word seemed on the cusp of reality. Her husband’s new job as a long-haul trucker meant he wouldn’t be underfoot, making the normal demands of a spouse being in constant contact with another spouse. Not having a nine-to-five job or a second job to pay for the little extras in life freed her from the reason (or excuse) to not vegetate in front of the television, recovering from a stressful, unfulfilling career. All she’d need to do is get a couple chores done first thing in the morning and spend the rest of the day writing that best-selling novel or award-winning blog.

Except that it didn’t turn out that way. Out on the prairie, dust was a constant combatant and the battleground was on every level surface in the house. The pollution she hated in the city seemed a distant bad dream compared to the light tan film that settled on her kitchen counters every single day. She couldn’t leave the windows open because of it.

And the smell! That awful stench of the pig farm down the valley came wafting towards their housing development as the sun set and the cooler air displaced the warm. The country air isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when livestock is put in the mix.

Strike the thought, she told herself. She loved the country. Even as a little girl who wanted her own horse and no typewriting, she desired to live on a farm and raise chickens. There was nothing wrong with swine; they were ‘earthy’, and being in the country meant being in touch with Mother Earth, right?

Besides, complaining was just another excuse to procrastinate. The blank page of the word processor still glared from the screen, not magically filling with her imaginative prose. When she didn’t have the time to work on it, creative ideas seem to fight one another to be first in line. Now they shirked back like wall flowers at the high school homecoming dance. It just didn’t seem fair.

Write what you know, is how the advice runs, and what she knew at the moment was frustration, impatience, loneliness, and…dust. She knew too much peace and too much quiet. She knew the mocking blank screen that needed to be populated, even if it was more JJJJ FFFF KKKK DDDD LLLL SSSS :::: AAAA.

She smiled to herself and highlighted the text. The last bit looked rather like curse words, although they didn’t contain the characters from the top row of the keyboard. She even chuckled as she deleted them, although it meant that the document would be empty again.

Write what you know, she thought again. What did she know? She knew how to move an entire household five hundred miles without hiring a moving company. She knew what muscle pain meant. She knew how to set up a household for the love of her life, only to have him never be home to enjoy it with her because he was earning the money to pay for that house. She knew now to be careful what she wished for because she might get it.

Leaning forward, she once again placed her index fingers at J and F. With flying fingers, she explained to her readers “lonely”.


Top Ten Signs You're Too Old For Trick Or Treating

(Got this from a 'viral' email pass-around a couple of years ago)

Top Ten Signs You Are Too Old to Trick or Treat

10. You get winded from knocking on the door.

9. You have to have another kid chew the candy for you.

8. You ask for high fiber candy only.

7. When someone drops a candy bar in your bag, you lose your balance and fall over.

6. People say, "Great Keith Richards mask!" and you're not wearing a mask.

5. When the door opens you yell, "Trick or..." and can't remember the rest.

4. By the end of the night, you have a bag full of restraining orders.

3. You have to carefully choose a costume that won't dislodge your hairpiece.

2. You're the only Power Ranger in the neighborhood with a walker.

1. You avoid going to houses where your ex-wives live.


Boots the Biscuit Thief

My cat Boots is going on seventeen years old, and for sixteen of those, she’s been a dear pet, a real source of love and a near constant companionship.

Lately though, she’s been a real old lady. If she were human, she’d wear a purple hat and toss curses at policemen. Boots makes Maxine look like Miss Congeniality when something isn’t to her feline liking.

A prime example is cat food. I don’t believe I’ve seen a pickier eater since myself as a snot-nosed kid, putting individual macaroni noodles on the tines of my fork. For years, we were buying the same dry food and all three cats ate it just fine. Then one day I noticed the old cat was losing a little weight, and I realized she’d stopped eating. She's always been a skinny little thing, but I took her to the vet who couldn’t find anything wrong. Upon his suggestion, I changed her food, and she ate like a racehorse.

About a year ago, she developed bad teeth and a delicate digestion so we switched her to canned food exclusively which she seemed to like…unless it was chunks in gravy. The gravy would get licked up enthusiastically while the chunks that were too big for her to chew would be aggressively pushed off the plate onto the floor. Fortunately for me and my wallet, the other cats would eat it after she walked away, but apparently it bothered her that they got to eat it when she couldn’t, so she began carrying these morsels to me, crying.

Well, I’ve never been a mother, but I now completely understand what parents mean when they talk about the “I’m Hungry” cry or the “I’m Tired” cry or the “I’m Hurt” cry. The first time I heard this strange mewing from Boots with food in her mouth, it clearly said to me “I’m Troubled”. At first I wondered if she was in heat but she’s fixed so I knew that wasn’t it. Then I wondered if maybe she was depressed or going senile, but understanding flooded over me when she dropped the large wad of masticated ‘pseudo meat’ at my feet, looking up at me expectantly. She wanted me to cut it into smaller pieces!

Okay, I’ll admit it – I did. For the next three wads of formed “stuff” that she set before me, I broke it up with my fingers. Yes, my denied mothering instincts were resurrected by a little four-pound, pointy-eared, tiger striped cat. With the next mealtime, I learned to cut certain chunks into smaller pieces before putting the plate on the floor, and my little ‘dependent’ stopped coming down the hall, echoing the troubled, pitiable, seeking yowl, pleading for help from “Mom Cat”.

Until…about two months ago.

I’d made dinner for my husband and myself, a simple meal of leftover beef, Brussels’ sprouts and a sleeve of ready-to-bake biscuits. We ate everything but two biscuits which I left on the counter in case my husband wanted to finish them later. As per usual, David sat to watch a little TV, and I went back to our home office to check email and edit my latest work-in-progress.

Then came that sound. That pained yowl of distress, begging Mom Cat's rescue. It was worse than usual, sounding muffled but more urgent than before, and it confused me terribly because I hadn’t heard it for so long. Boots sounded completely overwhelmed with grief and pain. I jumped up from my chair and as I reached the door, I saw the cat coming down the hall towards me. Her face looked totally deformed! Her ears were perked forward and her eyes glowed with hope but the whole bottom of her face below her little pink nose was swollen and doughy and misshapen and…

A biscuit! The damned cat had stolen a biscuit from the counter and was carrying it to me!

“Mom Cat! Help!”

I laughed so hard, I peed my pants! At the same time, I knew I couldn’t let her have the damned thing because she would have continued to thieve food from the counter, so I used my “Mom Cat” voice and shouted “Hey!” in the tone she recognized as reprimand. Suddenly she stopped, and her eyes got big like it had suddenly occurred to her that I wasn’t going to be an accomplice to her crime. Wheeling like a dervish, she trotted quickly back towards the family room while I chased after her, trying to retrieve the biscuit. She slunk under the sofa where my husband was reclining, watching a movie.

“Get the cat!” I cried.

“What’s wrong?”

“She stole a biscuit and brought it to me to help chew it,” I explained. “We need to get it from her before she makes a mess with it.”

My husband stared at me blankly for a moment and then burst out laughing. I dropped to my knees and looked at the cat as she stared back at me from the middle of the sofa’s underside, gnawing furiously like a little kid who’s gotten into the hidden Halloween candy and is making the best of the time she has.

I’m a bad Mom Cat, I know, but I let her finish what she could, and when she came out 30 minutes or so later, I made my husband (who finally stopped laughing) help me move the sofa so I could toss the remainder and vacuum the crumbs.

Since that time, Boots has never once carried anything to me, looking for help. She has even gone back to pushing the food off the plate, as though gladly sharing with her ‘brother-felines’ rather than face the Wrath of Mom Cat.


"Random Acts of Folk Remedies" or "Mother of Invention?"

Okay, this really should be on the website of my friend Mustang Rider, since her blog is all about living green, living simpler, living easier, but it's so small and random, I'll just toss it on here.

On occasion when I cook pasta sauce (large quantities frozen for future use), my house begins to smell quite a bit like Luigi's All Night Spaghetti Factory, and since my sauce usually cooks down over the course of a coupla hours, it rather permeates the house. My quick fix is to turn on the central air blower for a couple minutes and then spray odor-neutralizing into a couple of the intake vents. A few minutes later, the entire house has a vague scent of the fragrance without my having to walk around the house spritzing every corner. (My idea is useless, of course, if you have radiators. Sorry.)

Another "folk remedy" I discovered recently was another use for Swiffer dusters after they're used up; sticker burr removal! Here in eastern Colorado (and particularly on our ~3 acres), we have an annoying abundance of sand burrs, and now that it's fall, their spiney hooks have dried hard, making them very painful to remove by hand. My husband was doing yardwork yesterday and came into the house for help removing the burrs from his back (don't ask; I didn't). As it happened, a very used Swiffer handduster was nearby, so I took a quick swipe. IT WAS MAGIC! I got the seven or so off his back and then removed the two or three dozen from his pantleg (he'd done the other one outside by hand). I've never seen those things come off so quickly and easily.

If you come by sometime this week, you'll probably find me wandering around the property looking for other miracle cures with a Swiffer. Goatheads, here I come!!!