Category Archives: Writing

WINTER IN MOAB

 With some writers, journaling is left to others. For many of us, it is a place to record feelings, sensations, impressions, thoughts and experiences.  For me, it is one of those ways I have of sorting out writing dilemmas, plot or character problems or simply dumping my frustration of whatever has grabbed me and put my self-doubt to work. It is not unusual for some of those pieces, or parts of them, to reappear in a novel or poem at a later date. Here’s a wintry bit where that process may be apparent.

 WINTER IN MOAB

 Back from a wild trip to California by January 10, we felt we had truly come home. Perhaps it is the stony silence of our monolithic surroundings, or the snowy easing of a white rug on the ground, or the soundless parade of stately mule deer across our field; whatever speaks to us here does so profoundly.

 And, then, the Canadian Geese arrived. First, one seated himself in the middle of the field on a crisp Monday morning. He reached his long neck all around to graze and caused us to think perhaps he was maimed and lost from the gaggle.  Three days later, three more geese arrived. And then, twenty, forty, seventy and, finally, over a hundred who moved between our field, neighboring fields and the ponds in our park. They court and dance, grovel and stand watch, feed and sleep. Driving along the Colorado River as they come and go in our field, we’ve watched them spread out in their majestic V’s.  Walking up toward Moab Rim one day, I listened as their voices bounced off the walls of the river corridor. I listen for them in the morning and awake with a smile.

 I’ve known that a group of poets and writers here meet periodically but I’ve been shy to invade their sessions, not knowing how long I’d be around.  Trust, necessary to sharing your creativity, usually takes cultivation, testing and daring.  I wasn’t very willing to just jump in.  Until I saw the notice of a fiction writing class at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center, due to run until March. Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel was to guide our work. I jumped in. Susan, the instructor, and four other students were at varying stages of writerly development and it is sweet for we all value the process and are sharing our efforts. When the class ends, we plan to run on as a critique group-something I’ve missed in our troubadour life.

 Late in January, we hiked into Moonflower Canyon, set back from the Colorado which was running red. Petroglyphs with a triangular man, geometrics and assorted wild sheep and deer line the rock to the right. Notched tree limbs have been squeezed into the narrow crevices to the left of them to help lithe, slim ancestors of the Ute and Navajo to climb. And we hadn’t left the parking lot yet! Following the trail past primitive, winter-abandoned campsites, took us over the creek several times. A giant turtle rock sat on the rim, hundreds of feet above us. Barren cottonwoods stood tall or leaned against canyon walls; water runoff had serrated the soil in areas, beating down the new green growth. Our voices began to echo as we neared the end of the box canyon. I expected to see a “Butch Cassidy Slept Here” sign as we moved along.  Finally, we reached the end and found a deep pool surrounded by a jumble of colorful rocks and boulders.  Unseen birds twittered softly in the dimming afternoon light. Peace and beauty were ours and stayed with us through the glorious sunset that had the LaSal Mountains.glowing pink as the sun’s rays melted over their snowy shawl.

Originally written January 2005

Why I Write, Part 2

On my Facebook page, I commented on David Corbett’s article in the current Writer’s Digest. The piece is titled: Hooked on a Feeling: The Emotion-Driven Method of Crafting Compelling Characters. It is an excellent article, full of good concepts. But for me, the word “compelling” jumped into my figurative headlights.

When a writer is asked why they write, the answer is invariably along the lines of “because I can’t NOT write.” Some will call it a compulsion, an addiction or to make money, feed my family. A few will confess it’s a hobby, a pastime, better than television. Some will say to educate, entertain, get my message out, leave something for the kids, or just maybe, they’ll state their belief that they “have a book in me.” With that last one, the person is liable to ask the next writer they meet to write the book for them.  

I am compelled to write. It hasn’t always been this way, especially through high school and most of college when my first bluebook (yes, I’m dating myself) was a bare page and a half. Then, onionskin paper, carbon paper, mom’s 1930’s typewriter and erasures made term papers an all night production.  By graduate school, I was writing my first and last draft at the same typewriter, ideas and words already plotted out.

Social workers record their client contacts, recalling what was said or acted on. Describing the setting whether home, neighborhood, school or business gives important clues to a family’s life. Welfare workers in years past looked for men’s clothing tossed about; street gang workers look for the chains, knives (now automatic guns,) drugs and other paraphernalia of the life; therapists take into account the self-care of their client (BO, unwashed hair and clothes, rotting teeth,) in assessing emotional state. The fine tooth comb is applied by the observer’s sensitivity to surroundings, interactions, appearances, weaknesses and strengths. Fiction writers do much the same.

I write because I am compelled to deal with issues of the human condition. Characters and story lines evolve for me in drowsy day dreams or clear thinking, in night dreams and memories. They all but stand up and do a shout out: TELL THE STORY, MY STORY.

And so I start with a word at a time, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph. I will reread at the end of the day and the beginning of the next. I’ll search for poor word choice, question if I’ve conveyed what I wanted to or I’ll see if the character is taking me into unknown and unexpected territory. Then, I will be compelled to put a new word, phrase and all that follows into the computer and see the magic unfold. The process is sometimes very difficult, when the words don’t come, when the character seems to be getting away from me, when I’m sure it is all unadulterated trash.

That’s when I’ll check my email, read blogs that I know will have pearls of wisdom and seek out other writers. I’ll turn to my journal and often find my way out of the hole in the process of going inside myself. Reading a really good book holds the danger of showing me I was right, my work is trash. That’s usually short-lived because the compelling drive to get the story out renews itself and I’m back at the computer, or in the park using pen and paper, breaking the routine to escape the rut I got into and finding the magic repeating itself. The words flow, new characters emerge, twists occur and the tension of the story builds.

I’m right where I need to be. I’m writing.

Why I Write

I have made up stories since early childhood, just as most of us did and left behind as we aged. I worked on short stories and poetry by the time I was in my forties. Marrying a New Mexican took me into the southwest frequently over the years of our life together. Place has always been a character in my work and never more so than when I started writing historical fiction. I draw on my journals frequently to retrace an experience or impression of a site or emotional experience.

In the ’70’s, I started on two historical novels only to leave them on the shelf. Ten years later, my brother-in-law told one liners around a New Year’s Eve fire in northern New Mexico, about his grandmother Josephine. At 3:00 am, I sat in the family bathroom with pencil and a tiny tablet writing down his one liners like: “She met Geronimo; rode in a cattle drive disguised as a man; had a child out-of-wedlock and lost him; met Pancho Villa; had a romance with a Buffalo Soldier, etc.”  From this came my first book in the Huachuca Trilogy: Huachuca Woman, a fictive autobiography.

Writing stimulates my imagination, opens new doors and shows me aspects of my own history and character that I hadn’t recognized previously. Writing has brought me new and strong friendships that I value.

Look for the first two books, Huachuca Woman and By Grace, to be published in the near future.