Category Archives: Writing

THE LIVES OF CHARACTERS

THE LIVES OF CHARACTERS

I am preparing HUACHUCA WOMAN for publication and have wandered about my files in amusement and consternation. Writers oft-times write the back stories of their characters and then seldom use these. They are intended to aid the author in understanding the motivations and impact of the character in the story. In HUACHUCA WOMAN, Jessamond is a minor character who shows up in the protagonist’s (Josephine’s) childhood, never to be heard from again, or will she be? As you read this worksheet please ask yourself this question:

Would you read about Jessamond as a main character in another book in the series?

BIOGRAPHY OF JESSAMOND LYDIA REYNOLDS

Jessamond was born on March 13, 1882 at Fort Dix, NJ to Lt. and Mrs. Philbin (Alice) Reynolds. She was their first child and destined to be their only daughter. Lt. Reynolds was a graduate of West Point and had served in the Army for six years before meeting Alice McKelvey at an officers ball. He came with another officer’s daughter only to be smitten with Alice. They married a short 5 months later when he was to be reassigned to the 10th Calvary then stationed at ______________.

Jessamond proved to be a healthy, robust child who weathered several childhood illnesses including a bout of scarlet (rheumatic?) fever that took the lives of her little brothers in 1882. The family is on the verge of reassignment when she meets Josephine Lowell in 1886. Capt. Reynolds moves ahead of his wife and daughter to the new post where he is killed in a freak accident…..

Alice Reynolds chooses to remain near Ft. Huachuca where her sons are buried. Her Army pension is supplemented by support from her wealthy father so that she and her child want for little. Alice is industrious and not content to remain idle; she has a need to exert control over the depression that on-going mourning threatens to gain on her. She decides to start a school on the base for the many Apache children living there whose fathers, uncles and grandfathers serve as Scouts. She wins the approval of the base commander, with some reluctance on his part.

Jessamond’s adventurous nature aligns her with these children and she sneaks into her mother’s class whenever the opportunity affords. More often than not she skips the white children’s school to sit outside the window of her mother’s class and often helps the children with their homework.
Her favored dress is a pair of her father’s old jodhpurs cut down to size, a dark cap that barely hides her face and laced boots that imitate the infantry men’s; her shirts are remnants of old blouses with their sleeves and collars cut off. She frustrates her mother and their housekeeper, Leila Mae, wife of a Buffalo Soldier.

Knowing that something must be done to tame her wayward daughter, Alice arranges for her to attend the same Eastern boarding school she herself attended; Grandfather McKelvey meets the train and is taken with his tomboy of a granddaughter. Jessa lasts less than a month before she is expelled in apparent disgrace. Grandfather returns with her to the west and admonishes his daughter to “allow the child to romp and run in the open spaces of the west,” saying she’s sure to calm in adolescence;” she doesn’t.

Despite her unruly ways, Jessa is an avaricious reader, absorbing books as a rabbit will carrots. She is known throughout the fort and town of Fry(check dates) for her unyielding curiosity and unending questions. By the time she is 15(1889), she knows how to shoe a horse(learned from the smithy,) dress a deer, beef or pig (the fort’s butcher,) mix medicines (the hospital doc and the town’s dentist, ) speak Apache, Spanish and read Latin(from varied “teachers” ) and decides to become a doctor.

With support from her mother and grandfather, off she goes to an Eastern medical school and returns(at 20, 1894) to SE AZ to pursue her career. She’ll deal with mining disasters, gunshot wounds, contagious diseases, flu epidemic of 1918(?) and assorted conditions.

What makes her tick/what motivates her? Loss, grief, intellect, determination, stamina.

What does she do? Opens sanatorium in the Huachucas, clinics in Bisbee and Tombstone.

Private life: love of rancher who rejects her; rededicates life to medicine; wooed by miner who courts her with teases, hostile exchanges and sexual tension only to give up in the face of her repetitive rejection….maybe he goes off to another mining venture and returns years later, 2 children in tow.

Issues: rejected/feared by Indians & men as a woman MD, ailing mother’s need for care, difficulty/frustration staying up with developments in medicine on this western outpost.

Please tell me what you think of Jessamond.

FROM THE LAND OF SKY-BLUE-PINK

At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.

TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW

The more I read the more sensitive I become to writer style, voice, use of words and phrases, pacing, use of tension, story development, characterizations, etc, etc. This sentence reads like the table of contents in a writing primer, perhaps Creative Writing 101. I never took the course but had an excellent, even unparalleled, liberal arts education at Occidental College.

 I haven’t always been comfortable with pen and paper…or my mother’s old (1930’s) Royal portable typewriter. The science teacher pushed his words on me for my valedictory speech in high school: stodgy, 19th century prose that was an embarrassment. A few months later, I sat before my first “Blue Book” essay exam, froze up, wrote a tiny page and a half and got a C+. By the time I got to grad school, I could do the first and last draft of term papers on that old Royal the night before they were due. Research, of course, was sought before that date and incubated much as it still does.

While I devoured books all my life, I’d never been trained to analyze what I was reading or how the writer wrote. I escaped into the stories, their imaginary characters and settings and wished I could write, too, but knew I wasn’t worthy.

Writing was something that special people way above me did. Not something I could aspire to.

Instead, I became a social worker and learned to observe setting, behavior, character structure, family and group dynamics and write of these in case notes and other documents. Thirty years of writing court reports and occasional ventures into writing poetry and short stories gradually led me to storytelling and getting it all down on paper. Now, I am immersed in the doing of it.

So what led me to take up the topic of  REVIEW? If you’ve read my last three blogs, you know I’ve been out and about in the Great Northwest…collecting new books. Okay, that wasn’t the primary goal but it was an accomplishment. And I fulfilled it to the brim of my car trunk.

So far, in the week I’ve been home, I have read two books by Women Writing the West writers: THE GOOD TIMES ARE ALL GONE NOW by Julie Whitesel Weston, a memoir, and THE BARGAIN by Irene Bennet Brown, an historical romance. Both are exceptional writers and I decided I needed to return to reviewing books I especially like. You can find both books reviewed by me and others on Amazon and on Goodreads.

I decided that I owed it to these writers, sitting in their writing rooms with just the computer between them and their readers, to acknowledge their work with words of my own. Okay, they got a measly bit in royalties of what I spent on their book but I doubt that is reward enough. Both are prize-winners and may not need my endorsement but I’m giving it to themanyway.  Do you know what?  They each graciously thanked me and praised my use of words; one joined Goodreads and is now a follower of my blog. The other says she will use my review in her next series of readings.

For me, this is the ultimate in paying it forward among writers: to buy(or win) the book, render an honest opinion and keep at it.

When did you last write a review? 

What did you
want to share with the world about the book and its impact on you?
 

Will you do it now?

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Before there were blogs, FaceBook and sundry other electronic ways to communicate there was email. In years gone by, I used to labor over journal entries, sometimes transferring them into longish emails accounting for TRAVELS WITH MOSES. Moses was our Basenji, rescued from the  local pound. He was more cat than dog, short haired, pointy eared, silent–a barkless dog breed from Africa who travel on the shoulders of a hunter to find lions! Independent, obstinate and a runner, our Moses stole our hearts and then broke them when he disappeared near Tyler, Texas.

A life time later, I’m on the road again with writer friend Anne Schroeder and we’re in Medford, Oregon for the night. Do you like driving in fog, rain and sunshine? From the flats and rice fields of Sacramento through the wide open spaces of Highway 5’s lonesome hinterlands we sped, slowed, stayed close to the speed limit or not. All depended on the amount of rainfall from minute to minute, how heavy a foot hit the pedal and getting lost in writerly conversation. Then, there were the rivers, streams and arched bridges to drool over.

Passing through towns, villages and hamlets with names like Corning, Red Bluff, Cottonwood, Sweetbriar, we met up with Shasta. A heavy cloud layer sat on Mt. Shasta, the 14,000’ lovely volcanic home of Big Foot (mythic or real?) The mountain, its top half cut-off by clouds,  looked more like Acoma or
another New Mexican mesa…stately, impressive and a bit intimidating. Coffee and blackberry cobbler and pumpkin spice cake at the Hi-Lo Cafe,  in the same family for 60 years, nurtured  us well and we went on our way.

If I had taken the picture I should have, you wouldn’t be seeing so much of Mt. Shasta. ENJOY!

Now what do writers talk about as they skim mountain roads and passes at 55-75 MPH? They talk about anything that strikes their fancy. In our case, we covered family, writing and writers, books we’ve read or are reading, have written or plan on writing. Sharing horror stories about self-centered, non-reciprocating published authors kept us busy for a good little while.  As our stories grew, so did the mountains, trees and hills along our way. The sky cleared and threw out the sun from time to time, warming the cockles of our hearts and lighting our spirits. The trees came taller, wider in the colorful hues of pine, redwood, and cedar with a few autumnal oaks in changing cloaks.

When two friends venture out on the road together for the first time, there are lessons to be learned, communication problems to work through, decisions to make. Finding each other’s style is part of the process…one I last experienced when my son and family moved in with me. It is all about negotiating time, space, feelings and expectations. In the latter, I have too often lapsed in expressing myself, operating instead on assumptions. At this point, all is smooth sailing/traveling  and I fully expect it will continue to be as we head to Oregon’s Aurora Colony which Jane Kirkpatrick has written of so well and wisely.

ANNE’S TRAVEL TIP: when you’ve looked high and low for your telephone charger and it is no where to be found, check with the front desk for lost and left behind chargers. She did and is now a much happier camper.

TIME PASSES

I’ve only seen Midnight in Paris twice, so far. I’m not a fan of Woody Allen or of the theater where the film is showing. But, I broke my self-imposed boycotts
and went the first time, then had to go again. You surely know the plot, the romances, the historical characters, the incredible photography and costumes
and outstanding performances. No need to go into them here.

What I most loved was the message of time passing and our romantic view of what has come before us as we avoid, reject, or dangle in the present.

Salvador Dali

I had a birthday recently, always the start of my New Year. It would also have been our 46th anniversary if Jim had survived the last three years. My granddaughter started kindergarden.  Such is the way I have of measuring the time that passes. Landmarks,. Days on the calendar. Periods of
playing hermit. Shuttering my mind. Avoiding events, the telephone, leaving the house. Or speed-dialing along on full steam, participating fully, actively and
enthusiastically in what life brings and what I seek out.

Have you visited elderly friends as their minds retreated into yesterdays and the future held little or no promise? One friend was so delighted with the teenagers we’d brought along that she went to the piano in the dayroom and put it to use. She pounded out segments of songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s while the staff and other residents looked on in amazement. She’d lived there quite a while and no one had ever heard her play. For Bessie, time was now and she made the most of it.

It is too soon for me to withdraw from all that I love: family, writing, traveling, being with friends. As I write, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. A day of remembrance and judgment. And, I think, of hope. Time to take stock and look to the year ahead. What does it hold? What might I make of it?

I’ll start my new year with a road trip to Seattle for the Women Writing the West Conference. My traveling partner and writing friend, Anne, is coming along. We’re in the throes of planning the trip: what to see and do along the way, in Tacoma/Seattle and on to Victoria. There’s a stop in Battle Ground, Oregon for
tea with friends; the Richard Brautigan library in Vancouver, WA; the WA State Historical Museum in Tacoma; a great conference to attend; exploration of
Seattle’s underground and hills for nostalgia and research; and onto the ferry to Victoria in search of writer-artist Emily Carr, the totems and First
People’s culture.

Emily Carr: Kwakiutl House

Do you smell the adventure in the redwood and red cedar countryside, the grey skies and our sunny expectations? Do you feel the inspiration and joy about to settle on us? The opportunities to see old friends, make new ones and spin our dreams?  Without a doubt, it will be a time to store up remembrances, fill our senses with new energy.

I’ll journal and blog from the road.

How do you
celebrate your New Year?

What do you do
to mark your time and how it passes?