Halcyon Days

I have a feeling that one’s halcyon days might depend on one’s attitude. I’ve been feeling glum about things. Anyway, woke up in a blue mood, confused and disenchanted. The prompt “halcyon” wasn’t happening. 

I realized lately it’s probable that I’ve hit another one of those “turning points” or “crisis junctures” in life, often related to age. Also, maybe, it’s also related to the time of year which everyone agrees isn’t always the “holly jolly” thing it’s supposed to be. In my case, after all the HOPE and striving last year, I have landed square in reality again. It’s OK. It’s a far better reality than that in which I lived last year.

Over the past two days I’ve seen what story the Work in Progress actually is. It’s not a happy story, but it is definitely a Goliard story and it’s a view at a little known aspect of the Middle Ages, though that’s not all it is. I still want to write it, but it’s going to require a lot of discipline and mountain hikes. I wish it would really snow so I could find out if I can still X-country ski. I make take horse-riding lessons. To write this story my life is going to need a very powerful balance toward the good, the happy, the light. Thank goodness I have a pal who’s always ready to go outside with me.

Anyhoo, with all this in mind, I left the story for the day, shopped, cleaned, took the dogs for a walk. At the store a couple of guys were making fun of salad dressing and it just cracked me up.

“All there is is raaanch.”
“I hate raaaanch.”
“Me too, but look at that. Every brand of raaaanch.” (You have to pronounce it in kind of a nasal way like in a cowboy movie)
I had to go where they were to get salad dressing and I said, “You guys are totally cracking me up.”
“Yeah and we haven’t even had anything yet.”
“What about rawnch.” (Faux British accent)
I laughed. 
“Oh, ranch” (French accent).
“Mai oui. C’est merveilleux.” I said. 

Lucky I’m easily amused. 

Still in a funk, I took out the dogs. We’ve been walking at the end of the golf course where, if I were a deer, I wouldn’t hang out. Now I think my herd of deer might actually “like” me. 

Bear notices them as soon as they are within our “range” which is about 100 yards. I knew they were coming and from where when Bear suddenly stood between me and what seemed to be the “big empty” to the west. I knew then it wasn’t empty, but I didn’t see anything. 

We kept walking and from time to time I looked toward the north, toward the parked tanker cars beyond which the deer hang out. Not always “beyond which” I know for fact from their footprints, spray on snowy trees, tracks and Dusty and Bear’s passionate sniffing. Then I looked over at the train and saw big ears turned in my direction under one of the cars. I stopped. 

Bear resumed her guardian position. I took Dusty’s collar because we were pretty close — maybe 50 yards away and no real barrier. If he saw them, there was every chance he’d bark and chase. I turned and kept going. When I turned around, one of them had emerged from under the train and was walking toward us. 

Well, my deer. “We’re not friends,” I told her. “These are dogs and your dad or husband doesn’t like me.” She stopped. Dusty, Bear and I walked away from them and when I turned around, they were gone. 

Then I thought, “What’s really better than this? I can walk. I can write this difficult story. It’s in my power now, but it wasn’t before. I live in this beautiful place. I can spend the winter getting ready to climb mountains this summer. Never before in my life have I had this kind of freedom. So what if I’m old and ugly? Dusty and Bear don’t care and neither do my friends. That’s MY female ego problem, nothing more. So what if I’m approaching that ‘three score and ten’ they go on about in the Bible? I don’t want to live forever anyway. Sure, right now I’m disappointed about some stuff, but who isn’t? These are halcyon days, these winter days with the steeply angled light, the indigo mountains and the promise of snow.”


Work in Progress


“Go get him, Brother Benedetto. He must be thirteen or fourteen by now. Older?”

“How am I to get him, Father?”

“Just go to San Zeno and tell them you need a bright boy to train as an apprentice. Maybe there will be six or seven boys to choose from. When was he born?”

“Fifteen years gone now.”

“It’s past time if you’re to teach him. Ask to see the boys who are the right age. For that matter, I am sure they keep records of where the children come from and when they came in.”

Brother Benedetto sighed. He wanted his son near him. He’d longed for that, the chance to teach his boy everything he knew, but now the moment was upon him, he was filled with doubt. It was strange enough he had a son and that son had been raised in the same place he had. “Life is a labyrinth,” he thought, again. 

“You’re not sure, Brother?”

“No, no, it’s all-right, Father. What if he’s no good? What if he’s simple-minded, has no interest?”

“He’s still your boy.”

“That’s so,” nodded Brother Benedetto. 

“Maybe he will not have a religious vocation. He’ll need a trade. There’s work for bad painters as well as good ones. Work for painters’ helpers. He will need a future.” 

“How do I start?”

“I’ll write a letter to the abbott at San Zeno and let them know you’re coming with my authorization. You have a big job here and any help is help, or am I wrong?”

“No, Father, you’re right. If the boy is nothing but a mule he can still carry things.”

Va bene.”

The Abbott sent the letter, and a week or so later they invited Brother Benedetto to come and meet the orphaned boys of appropriate age. There were three. One stood out to Brother Benedetto, an average sized boy with green eyes and black curls that dropped over his forehead. “The abbott was right,” he thought, his breast on fire. He’d never though to see those eyes again.

“That boy. What’s his name?”

“Michele. Came to us on the feast of San Michele. Come, my son.” Michele stepped forward. The other boys kept their heads bowed.

“How old are you, Michele?” asked Brother Benedetto.

“Fifteen next month,” he said. 

“Would you like to be a painter?”

Michele looked the older man in the eye for a moment, then dropped his gaze. Who was this man? Bringing him his dreams? “How?”

“Brother Benedetto is a painter, my son. He’s in search of an apprentice.”

“Yes. I would like to be a painter,” Michele replied. He almost whispered, but to his ears, his voice echoed in the empty corridor. 

“Can you draw?”

Michele’s face was red. He drew all the time. He drew everything. He sneaked out of the dormitory to watch artists painting on the street. He drew in charcoal on the pavement. He’d haunted the cathedral sanctuary watching the frescoes emerge from the plaster walls. He’d offered his help to the workmen who’d set him to carrying buckets of water, sand and plaster, cleaning tools. But how should he answer this man? It was prideful to say, “Yes.” Dishonest to say, “No.”

“He can draw,” said the monk, saving Michele from the embarrassment of answering. “You have chosen the right boy.”

“I know,” said Brother Benedetto softly, a catch in his voice. 

“Get your things, Michele. You’re going with Brother Benedetto. You will be his apprentice. You must follow his instructions faithfully, serve him well, learn his trade. In time you will join the Franciscans and serve the Lord as a painter.”

Michele looked at Brother Benedetto’s dark brown robe and cowl. “So be it,” he thought. “If that’s what it takes.” 


Fumbling around with a new story that is sometimes fun, sometimes difficult, but always exactly what I want to write. 


Time and Tide

The Goliard novel I’ve begun is as fun to write as The Price wasn’t, at least so far. One of my struggles with The Price was tied to our times. The more I researched into what happened during the mid-18th century great migration to America, the more troubling it all was and the more I feared drifting into an irrelevant polemic about slanted history. 

Primary sources can be harsh, but they reveal worlds, and the commentary in our (often politicized) history books can be insipid. I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t despise Christopher Columbus. He was a man of his time, and the times were awful. Maybe he was even better than average. I don’t know if it’s possible to write history without bias but boy, what a wonderful world it would be if that could happen.

History is messy, messier than most of us realize until we are obliged to dig into it. I think that’s how it should be. Our progenitors did not mean for us to live in their world but in our own. They consistently hoped our time would be better than theirs. Even I, looking back at the little bit of history I’ve lived through, hope many of those things don’t return. The future will have its own troubles without carrying the old ones forward with them. (Hey, coterie of anti-vaxers? I’m talking to you. Vaccinate your kids, for the love of god.)

Anyhoo, I don’t where this blog post is going, so… 




Cold morning out here in the real west (no surprise). I’m sad that one cup of coffee is (for good reasons, not the least of which the second doesn’t taste that good) the limit. That one cup is so good…

The chilly draft in my 90 year old house swirls around my wool-socked feet. I have two manuscripts on the table here, and one has been printed into a book. The best part of that is that I spelled the faux title of my own novel wrong. Never mind it’s the name of members of my own family. I’m an endless sense of amusement and frustration to myself.

The thing of printing a manuscript into a book is that it’s very helpful to me in the proofreading process. This isn’t a legit book in terms of formatting and other stuff, but it’s book-like.

It’s been edited professionally, something I wish I had been wise enough to do for Martin of Gfenn. Every subsequent book has had that advantage and it’s major. There’s also the thing (with a self-published book) that each time you need to deal with the manuscript you risk typos. At this point with Martin of Gfenn the typos are mostly spacing problems, still, who wants that?

In any case, yesterday when the book-like-thing arrived I thumbed through it and realized (for the first time) that I like the story. I saw what I have done — I have written a love story that’s not smarmy and predictable. I have created a complex female protagonist with integrity, passion, and genuine feelings. My male protagonist (antagonist?) never overcomes his flaws or sees them; he’s consistently himself and worthy of Aescylus or some guy like that.

When I started this book, I fought it all the way. I didn’t want to write about a woman, and there was nothing about the male hero that I liked.

One thing that happens when a person writes fiction is they soon discover that the people in the stories are not “their creations” at all but the emerge all on their own and demand to be themselves.

But they’re pretty loose about how you spell their names…


Of Mice and Music

One of fall’s quaint customs is the return of vermin. Mice. Fortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of experience getting the little sons-a-bitches, and I’m determined to win. So far it’s one down and godnose how many remain. It’s a little-known fact that mice travel in malevolent packs and eat bananas

In other news, since I have no story to write at the moment (waiting for my novel to come back from my editor) I pulled out the “never finished story” and started working on it. For some reason, I also decided to listen to The Pretenders, in depth. I have always liked them but I never listened to their music in any profound or concentrated way.


It’s always surprising that the best songs don’t make the radio.

I’m in love with their first album. I got hooked by this, “Precious,” the very first song:

Now Howard the duck and Mr Stress both stayed
“Trapped in a world that they never made”
But not me baby I’m too precious
Fuck off

Back in the day when this album was recorded and Howard the Duck Comix came out I was THAT person. As I rode the bike to nowhere and heard this song, I saw me walking down a crowded Denver street in bright red oxfords (not Dr. Maartens, please, it was 1979 or 80) composing a poem in my head. I was on my way to work. I’d bought Howard the Duck the day before and absolutely loved the sentence, “Trapped in a world he never made.” The sentence was echoing around in my “soon-to-be-at-the-law-firm-I’m-a-paralegal” brain.

It’s not nostalgia. I never heard this music before, but like manna from Heaven, the perfect soundtrack for eliminating redundancies from the book that’s never finished, the love stories that couldn’t jell.



Do You Want to Know What Comes Before?

Yesterday you may have learned that I’m struggling with a story. It’s about the same family you may have met in Savior and The Brothers Path but 200+ after the events in The Brothers Path and 500+ years after the events in Savior. 

It would help me a lot to know if, reading this, you’d like to know more about these people. Also, who seems to be the main character (to you). Here’s how it ends:

To Weber’s good fortune, Brandstetter fastened the loaded cart to the wagon. Kasparli and Vrenli would ride in the wagon with Brandstetter’s children. Hans Kaspar and Weber would follow behind.

“Conrad, you get up on Little Red. Let’s see how you drive a team of Conestoga horses.” Brandstetter motioned to the immense red animal to his left, closest to the wagon.

Conrad leapt up onto the horse, and in reflex and instinct, patted its neck.

“Let’s move,” said Brandstetter, when everyone was settled, hitched up and organized. “First stop, Germantown church. Next stop, Lancaster. Then four hundred miles on the Old Indian Warpath. Get them going, son,” Brandstetter handed Conrad a whip. He flicked it lightly over the horses’ heads. The team shook its harness bells, and the small procession began its trek into the vast wild of America.

Things I’ve Learned About Writing

There’s a lot out there about how to be a writer, but, at the very heart of being one is William S. Burroughs’ description of Kerouac. “Well, Kerouac was a writer. That is he wrote.”

I read a blog post yesterday that left me thinking about where I was when I started — I actually started writing as a small child, so I don’t mean then — but when I started writing novels intentionally (1998?) vs. where I am now. I’ve learned some stuff.

I’ll start by “where I am now” in the most literal sense. I have this WordPress blog because a book I read three? Four? years ago said, “A good way to promote your work is by having a WordPress blog.” Whether a person’s work is conventionally or self published, it needs to be promoted, a task falling more and more on the shoulders of the author. At the time I read that book, I had two novels to promote and had begun a third.

Once on WordPress, I found the “Daily Prompt.” I already wrote everyday without someone telling me to write every day, but, following the instructions in the book, I decided to “attempt” (there is nothing difficult about it, IMO) the daily prompt. Back then it wasn’t just a word; it was a topic. OK. I thought it was stupid and in no way a challenge, but I did it.

The reward? I’m not going to talk about the relationships I have built with others, though I’d say that’s a yuge reward. I’ll stick to the more writerly rewards.

Because of the Daily Prompt, I wrote some short stories I would never have written or even thought of. Not a lot of them, but one of them won an award last year. Here it is as it appeared first, here on WordPress. The prompt was: “The Setting’s the Thing: Today, we challenge you to create a compelling setting for your story.  ‘A man and his wife meet for lunch in a diner on August 5th, 1970, in New York City. She’s pregnant and plans to spill the beans over lunch’.”

I ended up loving the story and I would never have written it without the “Daily Prompt” mandate I’d given myself. I was wrapped up in writing The Brothers Path, not thinking of any other stories. I like writing short fiction and, in this consequence-less world of the Daily Prompt, it’s easy just to write something.

That brings up the question of inspiration vs. discipline. My art teacher in high school said not to wait for inspiration, meaning, don’t just paint when you’re inspired. Paint all the time. He was right, actually. The short stories I wrote first here on WordPress, and later refined on my computer, were not the result of inspiration but of discipline, choosing to do the prompt and sticking with it.

What do you get if you “paint every day?” You get better at painting. You get ideas you didn’t know you had. You paint things you never thought of painting. The same has been true for me writing the daily prompt. Write every day? Get better at writing.

Discipline is also humility. This is important to me as a writer. No inspired person is humble. The word “inspiration” means the gods are breathing life into you. In the moments of inspiration you are as close to a divinity as possible, carried away on the wings of angels — NOTHING can go wrong; EVERYTHING is perfect; your work is AMAZING because the experience in which you are enveloped is transcendent, miraculous. Discipline is the key to knowing that, when the glorious moment is over, you’ll have to sit down and revise…

There’s a lot written on the question of revision. I think there are several kinds, or perhaps levels. There’s revision as you write (you pay attention to what comes out of your fingers). There’s revision after you’ve written something — a paragraph, a page, a chapter. There’s revision at the level of looking (objectively) at a completed project to see if you’ve done all you can to make it as good as it can possibly be. That’s revision for all the “pretty” things of writing, where a writer can make choices about HOW a story is told. In writing Martin of Gfenn I learned the hard way that, in a very real way, there are two novels; one is the story; the other is the WAY the story is written. It was that discovery that transformed me from a hack taking dictation from “the gods” into an artist.

And, then there are readers. I believe that every writer who is serious at all wants people to read their work. I have accepted that my novels are not on the public pulse, and I understand that doesn’t make me a bad writer or my novels not worth reading. It’s a big world out there and market forces drive sales, I don’t. Burroughs also said that every writers’ work reveals the writer. I have certainly learned a lot about myself by seeing what I have dedicated myself to writing.

At this point — after 3+ years writing this blog — I have just over 1,000 followers.

I am writing a novel now. I don’t know how it’s going to come together — it’s “finished” in the sense that I have written the beginning, the middle and the end, but it’s still a very unfinished work. I don’t even know who the protagonist is. If you write historical fiction, you are bounded by historical events, so it’s possible to “know” a story without having a story, in a sense.

As I go to it at least once a day for however long I can stand it, I think about writer’s block, something I’ve always mocked saying, “So don’t write! Ha ha! Or write something else!”

Yeah, well, once more, live and learn.

Book Marketing Update

I know you are all on pins and needles, so here’s what’s going on.

I sent 3 copies of The Brothers Path to Mastof Books. I’m excited that I’ll be included in their catalog in October!

Summoned up the courage to call the local independent bookstore. I’m going there on Monday with my three novels to see if they want to stock them.

My first blog tour keeps attracting tour hosts which is great for me. Got another one today and that makes 12!!

Got an interview for Savior that will be on IndieBRAG at some point soon.

I finally realized I had to do bookkeeping for this “business” and spent six hours today setting that up. There’s so much going on that it should probably be kept on several different spreadsheets, but I have it on one (in various colors). The most depressing part (besides it being difficult) so far I’m into this $1000 for comp-copies of books, advertising (including virtual book tours), and giveaways.

I know that’s not much when it comes to advertising — but YIKES!!! For that money I’ve gotten copies of my books to sell (like to Mastof Books and, hopefully, Narrow Gauge Newstand) and give aways (as on Goodreads) and for reviewers (the virtual book tours) and advertising on Goodreads — ads linked to the give aways. So far that has motivated people to add my books to their “to read” lists and I’ve gotten a review from that.

I was very happy when things added up on my very out-there spreadsheet; that the number of books I’ve bought equates to the number I have + the number I’ve given away + the number I’ve “sold.”

After that, with a splitting headache, I road the Bike to Nowhere for 10 “miles.” Exercise, even that, is a great relaxer and attitude adjuster. And, you know, I got to listen to Eminem, who reminded me once more not to give up.

And tomorrow I can to to the Potato Festival with a clear conscience and free mind.



Biggest Chance?

Daily Prompt Take a Chance on Me What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

I wrote about it last year — it was, of course, being born and so on and so forth and here I am and I guess I like it fine, so far…

Most things require both risk and luck. A very large chance I took recently is expounded upon on the blog Colorado or Bust!

No one knows yet how that’s going to pan out because other things happen along with that big move, it seems overall to have been a good decision. I’ve recently had the feeling that I’m no longer moving here but that I now live here, though it still seems a lot like a movie or play. I know that will change.

I’m a writer so I take chances with that all the time. The chances come when I try to sell my work to someone. Having done that for so long, I no longer feel despair when a story’s rejected. It’s more like “same old, same old,” and it no longer makes me doubt my writing. I know more about the world now and the people in it and I don’t expect that a novel written about a young knight who fights depression by killing Moslems in the Holy Land is going to be on everyone’s “must have” list.

The story I’m working on now involves a different chance; I’m pondering seriously the notion of making “luv” central to the plot. I don’t like love stories (sour grapes, possibly) but I think it makes a good challenge for me. I’ve tried to make the protagonist a female character, but I’m afraid that just isn’t in me. I do know that the protagonist and his love interest are not very good people or very bad people. I don’t like them much (this is different) and I’m disappointed that their motives are quite banal even though their story isn’t. Since they’re loosely based on the people from whom I’m descended of course I’d like to make them wonderful people, but they aren’t. They’re just an ordinary rather arrogant tradesman and a woman who loves him, and not a great woman or a woman noble of soul or a revisionist feminist silenced by history and the time in which she lives. What is interesting about them is that they will — he will — finally realize his dream of going to America when he is in his 40s and she, who never wanted to go, will die on the voyage.

Those things did happen. They are my Lodestar.


Art’s Nowhere Near as Dangerous as It Should Be

Daily Prompt That Stings! Franz Kafka said, “we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.” What’s the last thing you read that bit and stung you?

Everyone has an idea about what literature — art in general — should be. Kafka, obviously, would want people to be “stung and bitten” by what they read. Certainly somewhere in his cock-roach riddled labyrinthine brain was a guy who wanted to sell “The Hunger Artist.” Edward Albee said the words that I’ve used as a title for this post. I agree with him. Why not with Kafka?

…I don’t want to be stung or bitten. I don’t mind being in danger. Masochism vs. risk-taking.

Once I was big on literature. I was a literature major so, like, DUH, whatEVER. Now? Youth is the time when people go out and look for the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Once you’ve been hit and jabbed a few times, have a few arrowheads stuck in your body forever, you don’t do that. You might wear armor (don’t we all?) you might have weapons of your own, you might just get good at fending off stones and sticks, and, probably you stop looking for them.

Kafka may have been a young man when he said that. Albee would not have had to have been young when he made his remark. Dangerous art means that the artist takes risks and that is, I think, the point of art. Beyond that, an artist who tells his/her artist who THEY are supposed to be has overstepped his/her bounds. Artist, be responsible for yourself. That’s as far as you can go, anyway.

I write historical fiction, so the stuff I read mostly has to do with what I’m writing. Right now I’m doing research into what it was like to be an emigrant coming from Switzerland to America. No one really taught that in school, and I think that the story I’m approaching now demands that I put it in front of my reader as it was. Yesterday I learned that emigrants were not looked at or identified as “people” or “passengers.” They were called “cargo” and “freight.” The companies that arranged their transport had figured out that the emigrants could fill the hold that would otherwise go empty to the New World where the ship would pick up its real cargo — tobacco, wood, and other raw materials. As the colonies became more and more self sufficient, ships were heading to America close to empty and filled with ballast. Human cargo changed that.

One third of the “cargo” died — sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the length of the voyage. Many were penniless by the time they reached America and had arranged to work for someone who paid their passage. If someone who had been indentured died on the voyage, that person’s family had to assume his or her indenture. Many of these indentured servants were branded and sold like slaves; most of them died in service. It wasn’t the convenient system I learned about in high school; it was slavery.

My question in this stinging and biting world of history is how to end my story? Happy ending? Moving ending?

I learned a while back that writing to the ending is a good strategy because then I know where I’m going. Ending a story is, for me, the second most difficult part and knowing where I’m going. At this point, my story ends here. I’m not sure I want these poor people to leave the ship and go into the Pennsylvania wilderness slaves, but we’ll see…

It’s a bit much. I hope this bites a bit, and stings. 😉

Sea Burial

The dead were sewn into their hammocks, the last stitch through their nose, “Just in case,” explained the ship’s master. Sewn in with them were “holy stones,” the rocks used to clean the deck. Grim as this was, it would be grimmer still were their bodies to float to the surface and follow in the wake of the ship. They were lined up on deck, the name of the deceased and the signature of a family member or friend scrawled on the shroud. Funerals were the first order of the day. Those well enough to bid a final farewell to those they loved stood in a line on deck waiting their turn.

Heinrich, Conrad and Jakob stood beside their father. Their tears made salty rivers of pink on their grimy cheeks. Hans Kaspar’s arms stretched to enfold his boys’ boney shoulders.

“Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me,” he whispered so the boys could hear him. “Thy rod and thy staff will comfort me.”

Two sailors tipped a board over the rail and a body fell into the sea. Hans Kasper and his boys stepped forward.

“Yours?” asked the sailor, pointing to the next body.

Hans Kasper nodded. The sailors lifted Liese and Elisabethli onto the board and balanced it on the rail. The ship’s master, Mr. North, a good Anglican, held out the Book of Common Prayer, said something in English and made the sign of the cross over Liese  and small Elizabethli.

“Father?” said Heinrich.

“Shh, son, it doesn’t matter. Come,” he pulled his boys more closely to him. The sailor tilted the board and mother and daughter slid over the side of the ship into the dark water of the North Atlantic. Hans Kasper held his boys even more closely and whispered, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”