Friday, June 15, 2018

The beauty of a Southern thunderstorm

I knew it was coming because the weather radar showed big areas of red and yellow nearby. That meant heavy rain (and possibly heavier rain) along with thunder and lightning. I walked out to our screen porch and pulled up a rocking chair so I could witness the show.

It was tame when I arrived. The only sign of pending trouble was a darkening sky as thick clouds gathered. The actual storm started gently with a slight breeze that ruffled leaves on the stand of tall trees behind our home. I could imagine that breeze swaying palm trees on a tropical beach rather than sweet gums and poplars. That breeze turned into a solid wind. The bigger trees nearer our home simply had the upper branches moved, but the spindly young trees at the back of the lot started moving back and forth like a collection of drinking straws swaying to the music.

The dark clouds huddled closer.

The wind changed identity and became a small gale. The young trees were bending deeper toward the ground with each current, and the older trees were beginning to bend as well. The thunder started innocently enough with a couple of distant rumbles. Those rumbles also began huddling closer. I never saw a lightning bolt, only a slight discoloring of the sky with resulting thunder of greater intensity. Then the rains came. It was a solid rain at first, enough to provide a good watering for all our plants and shrubs. That gentle phase didn't last long. The solid rain became a downpour. Water drops slashed through the atmosphere and rattled what seemed to be every leaf on our lot. The downpour only got stronger.

I left my screen porch viewing stand to walk through the house and go to the front porch. You see, we have one area to the far left of our house where these downpours leave their mark in the form of a small stream that runs between our line of grass and the thicker forest a few yards away. I wanted to see how this current began. We have a sloping embankment at the top of that area, and the water began to surge. It wasn't anything nearing a true flood, but the red clay that is dominant in large parts of the South began to wash down its usual route. I watched a small stream of red rush through our monkey grass, then flow through a few hastas we have on the downward side of this slope. That stream eventually made its way down that side of our property and jetted out into the street. It proved to me that we need some good groundcover to shield those banks, and the construction of a narrow channel so that stream can reach the street without cutting thick wrinkles on the face of our land.

The storm suddenly let up. No lightning, no thunder, no rain. I walked back to the screen porch to make sure no trees were downed. Even the rail-thin young trees at the back of the lot were still standing strong.

One part of our engineering efforts was laid waste by this storm. We accepted the advice of a man at a store as we tried to stop the loss of topsoil in big storms. He recommended using paving sand and more good topsoil in the most vulnerable areas. My wife and I spent considerable time putting down sand and adding topsoil, and we thought it sounded like a good idea. That idea didn't have a chance. I spent an hour or so the next day scooping up a combination of red clay and paving sand from the gutter on our street. The guy at the store said the sand would be too dense to be carried away, and we believed him. Foolish landowners!

I now have three bags of a combination of red clay and paving sand for use on an as-yet--to-be-determined project. I also have a great appreciation of the beauty and power of a Southern thunderstorm.

Life can be so beautiful, and storms can prove the folly of our ways.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

In the shadow of a true Southern rebel

The route to get to where we built our new home is Manse Jolly Road. I figured this Jolly fella was a former civic official or rich guy, the kind who usually have roads named after them. Turns out Jolly is one of those figures that reminds me that I am in a Confederate state that was bound and determined to split from those Yankees and form their own nation.

Manson Jolly was a young man from Anderson who went off to fight for the South in the Civil War. So did five of his brothers. Manse was a member of the South Carolina cavalry and made it through the war. None of his brothers did. Four died on the battlefield and the fifth by other means. Manse returned to Anderson to find his family decimated by the horrors of war. To make matters worse, those Northerners were occupying his hometown. Times were tough for Southern families who routinely had whatever crops or animals they raised taken by the Union soldiers. Manse didn't take kindly to that and became a trained horse soldier bent on revenge.

Manse's success is the stuff of legend around here. I talked to one native Southerner who heard that Manse trapped and killed three Union soldiers not far from our current home site. Could be true. Could be fable. What's known is that Jolly killed more than a few Union soldiers. The final number depends on how much legend you accept as truth. The final tally might be more than a hundred if you believe stories about Manse racing his trusty steed right through a Union encampment with both of his guns blazing. Most reject that story, as do I. I can't imagine a Southern renegade being able to gallop his horse through such a group without some battle-tested Union soldier having the wherewithal to grab a rifle and kill old Manse. It is the kind of story, however, that would be told and retold by Anderson folk as they sit in rocking chairs on their front porches and recount the gallant work of a local boy.

What is known is that it got too treacherous for Manse to stick around these parts. He left Anderson with a few like-minded Confederates and went to Texas. Tragedy befell Manse not long after when he tried to lead his horse across a stream turned into a torrent by a sudden storm. Both man and horse perished. Manse is buried somewhere far from his hometown, but his legacy lives on. There are T-shirts with Manse's image that tout his heroism in fighting for the South. There also is at least one road dedicated to his memory. You see, enjoyment of Manse's deeds dies hard around these parts.

That road winds past an arm of Lake Hartwell, and there are some comfortable homes on land that borders that lake. One of those homes is ours. I get to sit in my home office, the center of my writing universe, and take breaks by looking through trees and seeing that beautiful lake, and I take in the fact that I am maybe sixty yards from that road named for Manse. I wonder exactly where he bushwhacked those three Northern boys. Could be right around the corner.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

On attending my brother's memorial service

This wasn't supposed to happen this soon. Yes, my brother Steve had health problems for years. Nothing indicated that he was so close to the time of his passing. There were no messages or warnings. We were caught off-guard.

I have spent considerable time weighing the impact. There is so much information and emotional baggage to weigh. I have found few answers, only more questions. I won't detail those here. The only certainty I have reached is this: Steve's death affects me most because he was of my generation, the first family member of the younger set to pass away. That brings the reality of mortality that much closer.

I wrote in one of my novels of a man explaining why he made death such a major factor in his writing. (There is nothing autobiographical in this, by the way.) His point was that most death doesn't affect us much. We read or hear about deaths of many people by many means, but those deaths don't hurt us because we don't know.these people. The stakes are raised and we are torn up inside when someone close to us dies. Death takes a prominent position when that happens. Most people shy away from that fact because death isn't a welcome subject.

How do I celebrate Steve's life? Steve would love to be remembered by one photograph. He is a trim, young pilot standing next to his F-4 Phantom fighter jet during the early days of his military career. That is the image he wants frozen in time. I have what I refer to as a quintessential image for everyone close to me. It is a moment in time which I connect to that person. I can't reach that point with Steve. Yes, he's the young pilot, but he's a man of 10,000 emotional pieces, and I can't isolate one as that quintessential image. That is the root of my problem in coming to grips with this reality of death. What part of this complex brother do I embrace as memory?

The military realizes that men such as Steve savor their time of service. The memorial service on May 18 at Fort Logan National Cemetery was dignified and touching. The honor guard of the U.S. Air Force was pinpoint perfect in saluting Steve's service. They never uttered a word, but they didn't have to. They made their feelings known with a flag ceremony, the firing of a salute and the playing of Taps. They rang a bell to mark the passing of another warrior who served his nation with distinction. It was the best sendoff I could imagine for Steve. He was once again that young pilot hailed as the elite.

Steve and I didn't talk much in those latter days of his life. The last message I received from him, months before his passing, said simply, "Bol Bol quacks!" Deb and I stopped to see him in Denver in early October. I never received a phone call or text from him after that. I didn't feel excluded because all his family members were excluded. He didn't allow anyone to see that he was nearing the end, and the pilot was ready to go home.

I honor my brother's service. I honor his achievements. I honor his ability to set a goal and strive for it with steely resolve. I keep those memories fresh. I wish we had more time together, more messages traded, more Oregon sports stories swapped. It didn't happen, and that's life.

Steve, rest in peace. I will try to do the same.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

This blog enters the Deep South

Goodbye literary angle. Hello commentaries on daily life. Welcome to this son of eastern Oregon becoming a transplanted son of the Deep South, with intervening times in northern California wine country and the Front Range of Colorado. It's not as tough a transition as one might believe.

I was getting a haircut a few weeks ago in my new hometown of Anderson, South Carolina, and I was wearing a T-shirt with a big yellow O on it. A young man in the chair as I waited my turn said, "Oh, you must be a fan of the Oregon Ducks." I hurried My  to correct him. "No, I am a Duck, an official graduate of the University of Oregon." He smiled and continued the conversation. "Being here must be a culture shock, this being the South and all." I had to correct him again. "I was raised in eastern Oregon, in an area where many people work in cherry orchards or on wheat ranches. It's not the Portlandia view of the state. People tend to be conservative, and they know the value of hard work when the sun is beating down and the temperature climbs in the hundreds." He smiled. I hope he understood. I also extolled the virtues of a state where there is no private ownership of ocean beaches and no sales tax. I didn't get into politics because that culture shock would have surfaced. Oregon is as far left as any state government, even one led by Jerry Brown. South Carolina is deep red, a place where a candidate can talk about being a Christian and an ardent supporter of protection of all life from the point of conception. Those folks have a strong base here.

With my new location and aim of my posts, the Fingertips on Keyboard moniker doesn't fit anymore. My literary posts are moving to my new blog, I Am Peril On Your Street. There I give bare-bones insights into what I write and why. This place will be the home of stories about my new home and the intricacies of life.

My next entry will tell the story of a strong supporter of the Confederacy, and how he's still honored in little ol' Anderson. It might be a good idea to get a big plate of BBQ ribs, collard greens, and fried okra just so you feel right at home. Maybe pull up a rocking chair and turn on that ceiling fan. Kick off your shoes and sit a spell. We'll just be sharing a chat for a little while.

Friday, February 16, 2018

I am #PerilOnYourStreet

Every author has a central focus in stories they write. Some love vampires or zombies. Others swoon for those caught in romantic dilemmas. Each has a delicious range of possibilities. None of those appeal to me. I am a former journalist, so it is a rational path I've traveled from the stories I've written or edited over the years to this:


I covered a story of multiple murders by a mother on her family members. I covered more auto accidents than I care to remember. I wrote about fires that threatened homes, relatives who threatened relatives, and bosses who threatened employees. Those had a common denominator. Each could have happened in your home or neighborhood. I write novels in which the time is now, and the place cis just down the street from where you live.

Even my lone self-published novel has that trait. One Summer Season: A Young Man's Brutal Baptism Into Love And Baseball had its genesis in my coverage of Class A, short-season baseball while I was sports editor of The Bend Bulletin. Yes, I expand personalities and circumstances, but a lot of that book is taken from incidents I saw or heard about. The roommate who has a new woman over to the house almost every night? Yes. There was a player who left more than a few girlfriends behind when he left Oregon at the end of the season. The brawl that erupts between two bitter opponents? Yes. The Bend Phillies and Bellingham Mariners had such a spat, and there was a brawl of considerable size. It's real life, and the novel reflects that.

My current novel centers on a man who wants to get out of the madness of Manhattan, but his little Connecticut town has major problems just below the surface. He slowly sinks into those problems. Another novel centers on a former Marine who is livid when a child is killed or brutalized. My other novel is about an Average Joe who deals with a harsh past, or does he? He is a sexist bastard, but is he merely covering up hurts and flaws by objectifying women? You be the judge.

Real people, real problems, real peril. I like the sound of that, and I am happy to bring that threat into your homes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

End of the new home writing hiatus

Moving into a new home is never easy. It ruins routines, adds pressure that has no business being so dominant in my life, and disrupts any social activity. Maybe most damaging of all is that it trashes an author's schedule.

Revisions on my novel sat idle for slightly more than a month. I prefer to write on my PC, but I was limited to my laptop. I thought the time between writing sessions would be much shorter, but weather (too many nights of below-freezing temperatures) delayed our move-in date because it delayed the installation of our driveway. No driveway, no installation of carpeting. No carpeting, no final inspection from the county. No inspection, no chance to do our move-in. Longtime Anderson residents said they never saw such a protracted cold spell. The weather finally broke, but everyone with a delayed concrete project demanded action. The first warmer day went by without a new driveway. Our builder finagled a way to get on the second-day pouring schedule, but we had to wait for proper curing time, and there was a second cold snap. We finally got carpeting installed almost a week later, and we received the all-clear from the county inspector. Did that clear the way for my return to being an author? Nope. We had a mountain of boxes to unpack, and a PC to get installed.

Finally, last Saturday, my schedule was clear enough for AIC. I felt like I won the lottery. I just finished one revision of the novel. Now I'm ready for the next run-through for analysis and repairs.

I didn't let all writing go unattended during the lull. I concentrated on two short stories. One I shortened slightly to fit the 1,500-work limit required for the Writers Digest short story competition. That one is properly submitted. The second was a new creation tentatively titled A Life of No Apparent Value. It is partially written. Still, nothing replaces a novel in one's hierarchy.of favored projects. I feel liberated. I revise in the middle of the night, early the next morning, and maybe some moments can be snatched just before dinner.

I feel at home, at last. It's more than just the new digs. It's doing what I do, whenever I want to do it.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Find consistency in midst of chaos

There is no more important part of the writing process than revisions. It's nice to have a basic story line that shines through on the first draft. That won't carry the freight. What a good novel becomes is based on the amount of hammering you do to subject matter and characters, and how honest you are with your work in pursuit of your goals. Be ruthless. Have no pet ideas. Don't fear those times you know you must tear up chapters.

There is a caveat. Make sure your characters' reactions make sense as you lead them through the development of the character arc. Keep them real amid the chaos.

The best piece of advice I got from my first-draft beta readers was that one character's reaction to a major plot point didn't make sense. My main female character just had an event of shattering importance, but I had her sharing a laugh with her partner a short time later. Sorry, but that didn't fit the events, and I didn't write it as if it happened simply as an outlet for her pain and concern. It was shoddy writing and review on my part.

I am ripping into parts of my novel with bad intent. I am sharpening characters. I am tossing incidents that I tacked on near the end of the novel toward the front because the change adds a delicious richness to the story line. I have tossed out an entire chapter or two, and blended two into one in order to repair story-flow potholes. However, I strive to keep emotional consistency in the process. A character going through life needs anger, sorrow, joy, hope, setback. He or she might even find a bit of redemption, or not. But lead them in a way that makes sense.

One tactic to achieve that is to immerse yourself in the character. Put away preconceived notions based on your own life and settle into the life and reactions of your character. Hurt when he or she hurts. Laugh when he or she does. Feel the need to cover real feelings when those are too difficult to handle, if that's part of your character's makeup. Such a method is tough on an author, and sometimes to those around them. I tend to get focused as I approach AIC (Ass In Chair) time. I don't like to have my focus interrupted, but my wife inadvertently does it. I don't react well, and I need to apologize each time.

Hmmm, maybe I can work that into a character's reaction if their focus is interrupted. Happy I came up with that option. Now, in which section of my work will that fit, and how can I inject that and keep emotional consistency? Ay, there's the rub.