Why yes, my book does have a theme song….

Reflection meme*Apologies to anyone who got an unfinished version of this post earlier today. It’s been a long day and WordPress was playing with me…*

People often ask about a writer’s process. From what word processing program you use (Word) to do you ever write longhand (yes, with a fountain pen) to what’s your writing schedule (lately 5AM to about 1PM, and no I’m not happy about it). But one of the questions writers get asked most often is “Where do you get your ideas?” There are many possible answers to this. I believe Stephen King said “I have the mind of a small boy. In a jar on my desk.” How very. . .Stephen King of him. (There’s a reason I don’t read horror) Personally, my problem has never been finding ideas, it’s been fighting the new ones off so I can finish the current one.

Sometimes it will be something I see or hear, an image or a phrase, that will spark the creative synapses and, if I’m lucky, turn into a usable idea. And if I’m really lucky, that idea may spark others. Music is a critical part of my process. Sometimes it’s general, a certain piece of music invokes an emotion that gets translated into feeling of the story. But in the case of my Hawk trilogy, just re-issued in gorgeous new print editions and e-books by Bell Bridge Books, it was much more specific.I can tell you exactly where and how each book was born, because each one came from music. Particular music, either written or performed by the same person.

But first, one of the question I always get about this trilogy is “Why are they backwards?” And I get it, truly, to some people starting present day and tracing the story back in time does seem backward. But that’s the way they came to me, and Wild Hawk, the contemporary, was already sold when the idea for the rest came, so there in fact was no other way to go but backwards. (and if you want to wait and read them in reverse but chronological order, I’m fine with that, just saying that’s not how they came. . .)

That ‘splained, back to inspiration. A very dear to me friend happens to be a singer/songwriter of some note. If you were listening to country in the nineties, the name Hal Ketchum might ring a bell. Hal’s been down some long, hard roads, but he has persevered through it all and come out smiling. I have told him he drives me crazy because he can encapsulate in five verses what takes me five hundred pages. And it is one of those verses that I found the core of Wild Hawk.

The song is called “Drive On,” and while the entire song fits, the verse that began it all is this:

Somewhere back in the good old days

I missed the last train home.

Mastered more than a million ways

Turn my heart to stone

I have taken love, I have taken trust

Given little in return

I have held a match to my careless dreams

Stood and watched them burn.

From that verse the character of Jason Hawk sprang, fully formed, and all that remained was to backtrack and figure out why he was who he was. Which was probably the beginning of backwards.

I can’t write to music with vocals, at least, not in English, I get caught up in those words instead of my own. (Not in Spanish either, for that matter; I understand just enough to try to figure out the rest. . .) But that song, played as I was getting ready to write, got me back into the world I was creating in less than four minutes. (My friend, writer Eve Gaddy has a great term for this, she calls them “trigger songs”)

And if you’d like to hear the song, here’s a link:

And then Hal added a cover of an old Steely Dan song to his live shows. It’s called Do It Again, and is about a man who goes after a water thief with a gun, kills him, is caught but the hangman isn’t hanging so he goes free. (After one night’s tangled introduction, this song was forever after known as “The gunbiter song.” Hence the dedication.) And thus was born the second book of the trilogy, Heart of the Hawk, about gunfighter Joshua Hawk. I’d never done a western, or historical for that matter, and since I love them it was fun to do all the research. I’ve always loved the reluctant gunfighter mythos, and it was great to be able to play with it. And while Hal never recorded this one, I do have a rough (very rough) live recording of it, if you’d like to hear it:

Of course once I’d done that, I needed to go all the way back and trace the origin of the magical book that ties the stories together. So I went back to a magical time and place that never really existed for the foundation of both the magic book and the Hawk line. This became Fire Hawk, and once again music was key. In this case it was not just a song, but a particular version of a song. One that Hal had put on his very first album release on a small Texas label, and then re-cut later in his career. But it was that first version, called Bobbie’s Song (later recut as She Found the Place) that inspired me, in particular the incredibly evocative mandolin arrangement of Paul Glasse. It was the quintessential trigger song, all I had to do was hear that song and I was back in that made up time and place, and ready to write. If you enjoy the book, listen to the song, it’s all there. And vice versa, if you haven’t read the book yet, listen to this first; the essence of the story is summed up in the lyrics, in fact in the first couplet:

She found the place where I’ve been hiding

Have I the grace to let her in?

Sums up a lot of stories, doesn’t it? And I have a special soft spot for this one, not just because it won a RITA Award and put me in the RWA Hall of Fame, but because it has one of my favorite secondary characters, whose story I hope to write even after all these years.
And here’s that one, just listen to that mandolin! Beautiful.

So that’s how it happened, why the trilogy is backward, and why the trilogy is dedicated to Hal and his music.

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Do you love where you live?

Shack_dungeness

No, I don’t mean your house, specifically. Or that “house,” in the picture. (which, despite appearances, happens to be in one of the most beautiful spots in my state, Dungeness Spit–home of the famous and delicious Dungeness Crab).

As you may have gathered, I do love where I live. For many reasons, not the least of which is just pure, scenic beauty. I rarely leave the house without my camera, especially not my daily walks along the sound, because you just never know what you’ll see.

When people think of the Pacific Northwest, many think only of rain and gray skies. I’d like to dispute that with some of those pictures I promised. Skies in the Northwest can be the most colorful you’ll ever see. Not that they can’t be gray, mind you:

Fog

Or downright dark (yes, that’s snow):

Feb 09 snow2

But they can also be so bright it almost hurts your eyes. We call these days “severe clear”:

2013-06-30 Baker cropped

They can be golden:

sunrise2 10-12

Or pink:

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So orange you look toward Mt Rainier just to be sure it hasn’t blown:

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Sunrise can sneak up on you:

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Or explode:

Sunrise pillar2

And where I’m located, sunsets are second-hand:

Baker Sunset cropped

And on some exceptional days, the sky doesn’t even look real. I call these watercolor mornings:

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I think it’s pretty clear why I love living here. I knew this was home the first time I came here, even if it did take me a long time to get here. And I still wonder why it took me so long, why I just stayed where I was planted, as it were.

How about you? Have you always lived where you are, or are you a roamer by choice or by necessity? Are you happy where you are, or do you long for someplace else?

The End of My Lazy Summer

  • Note: There’s news coming! For the wonderful readers who have regularly, over the years since certain books came out, written me about them, I’ll have an announcement soon! But now, I have to turn in my “summer excuse.”

So as my last post–over a month ago–indicated, we had a rare summer for the Pacific Northwest. Lots of warm and sunny. Sometimes a bit too much warm for me. All I can say is heat pumps are the best invention ever. Well, after air conditioning in general, I suppose. Anyway, I never played hooky from school (what can I say, I was an angel–a terrified angel, but that’s another story) but I did from the blog. But it was 48 degrees this morning, the flag is whipping in 30mph winds, and I have steady rain. Yep, fall’s definitely here.

Spring is long over, according to my apple tree, which used to look like this:

apple blossoms 2012

And this little guy is bigger now…

fawn

…although mom is still close by, if a bit itchy.

itchy deer

And now summer is gone as well, along with some of the odder cloud formations, blue skies giving way to perpetual gray.

wedge cloud crop

The big question every year around here (well, at my house anyway) is will we be looking at this sometime soon?

Snow11 1-12

Most winters, when we get snow, it’s the perfect amount for me. Enough to say “Oh, snow, I can’t get up my driveway, guess I’ll build up the fire, fix a chai latte, curl up and read a book.” Or “Oh, gee, I guess I’d better finish knitting that sweater, I’m going to need it!” I love those days. But then, I’ve never lived anywhere that regularly gets snow several feet deep, which I’m sure colors my perception. They say it’s a “neutral” year so far, meaning no “El Nino” or “La Nina.” (apologies to the non-weather geeks/non-Pacific Ocean folks–they are Pacific Ocean conditions that greatly affect weather) Which would normally mean probably not this kind of snow. But then again, we had almost no snow last winter, and we very rarely have two back-to-back no or low snow years.

In other words, no clue. Yet, anyway. But my playing hooky is over, the blog is back, that news will be forthcoming, and lots of other things!

 

 

 

 

 

Summer?? How’d THAT happen?

Sun halo

What is that glowing orb up there???

Well, it’s official. Summer has arrived. For most, anyway. Summer doesn’t really arrive in the Pacific Northwest until July 5th, but that’s another story. But since the sun arrived the other day, complete with rainbow necklace, I guess I have to admit it.

Problem is, I’m not ready!! Our spring here is so darned non-committal that just about the time I think it might really be here, it’s summer, and I’m blinking, thinking, Wait, what? So here I am, having to say goodbye to spring when I barely had time to enjoy it. It’s a good thing I took pictures, so I can prove at least the plant life thought it was spring. So let me introduce you to some of my friends and family:

Callas

The Carnivorous Calla Lilies

These suckers are so big that after a rain bugs drown in them. If it’s a good bug, I’ve been known to try to rescue them. If it’s an earwig, it’s on its own. Ugh.

momma strawberry

The mother of all strawberries

This, my friends, is a plant to be revered. She is indeed, the mother of all strawberries. Purchased on a whim nearly ten years ago, this little plant has provided children that have filled every planter I have. So for $7.99 I got eleventy-two hundred plants. Think I’m kidding? Here:

IMG_0132

All in the family….

Every bit of green you see in this planter here, and the little pink flowers, are all kids from that momma strawberry. I could fill every square inch of my yard with this within a year. And yes, they really bear tiny strawberries. I have it on good authority, meaning the birds that always get to them before I do, that they’re very tasty.

Now this little oddity looks like it would be happier out in the Mojave Desert somewhere, yet it seems surprisingly happy here. I bought it simply for the anachronistic look of it. Because that’s the way I am.

poker plant

Took a wrong turn at Vegas…

And now we come to one of my favorites, the creature I fondly call “Cousin Itt.” (if you’re too young to remember the Addams Family, look him up) As usual, he needs a haircut, but for now he’s so…fluffy I’m happy to just walk around him.

cousin itt

Get away from me with those clippers!!

And finally, the most productive members of the family, or at least so I hope. There is only one place I can grow tomatoes well here, and that’s my front porch. It’s sheltered from the wind, and a good 5-10 degrees warmer than anyplace else around the house. So here they are, and here they shall stay, and if anyone is bothered by produce growing in their path to the front door, then they probably aren’t people I’d want to open the door to anyway.

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Whaddayoulookinat??

So there you have it, my sad tribute to a spring we barely experienced. You’ll noticed I ignored the grass. That’s because I’m the one who has to mow it, and I feel little affection for it at the moment. I’m probably the only person around anxiously awaiting its death by summer heat. (no, not DEAD dead, just done for the year.) Parking that lawnmower for a few months is one of the happiest moments of my year. But alas, not yet.

So how about you? Gardener, or brown thumb? Ornamentals or edibles? Try new things every year, or stick with the old reliables? Experiment to see what you can possibly grow in a container?

Refilling The Well

Canada Geese northbound

 

It’s spring, and a young bird’s fancy turns….

Okay, I finally believe it. Spring is really here. I mean, once I’ve seen the Canada Geese flying north in formation, I know it’s just me who hasn’t felt it. I trust their internal clocks more than mine, because their time doesn’t get messed with, they don’t deal with things like daylight savings time and other man-made idiocies that keep us thinking we’re somehow in control of nature. (can you tell I’m not a fan? Grump, snarl…)

But I digress.

I’ve introduced my neighbors before. But in case you missed it, here they are, sharing a quiet moment in a nearby tree.

eagle pair

One of the great joys of living in the Northwest is seeing these magnificent creatures on a regular basis. This time of year, almost daily. One of the first bird calls  I learned when we moved here years ago was theirs; it’s unmistakable once you’ve heard it. (I was given a small, stuffed bald eagle as a gift once, the type you squeeze and get the bird’s call. They got it exactly right.)

Everyone, writer or not, I think finds themselves now and then in a place where they just can’t keep going. Where they’re beaten down, too weary to go on. Where they’ve gone to the well once too often, and this time come up dry. Times like this, you need to know what refills your well, and then make a conscious effort to do it. For some it’s reading for hours. For others it’s getting outdoors, walking or hiking. For some it’s traveling.

For some, like me,  it’s doing something with your hands, creating something entirely different. Knitting, for me, takes up an entirely different set of brain cells, and lets the writing part of the brain rest and refill. And when I can combine it with sitting outdoors and waiting for my neighbors to come by, it’s even better.

Since I’m between books at the moment, I’ve had time to enjoy the show that truly means spring around here. My neighbors are celebrating the arrival in the way only they can. By flying, soaring, together.

eagle pair flight

And this year, for only the second time since I’ve lived here, I had the soul-stirring joy of watching an eagle courtship flight. Something impossible to describe, impossible even to really show in pictures, but once you’ve seen it in person, you will never, ever forget it. These two glorious, powerful birds soar skyward. They turn. Lock talons. And fall. Fall in a turning, twisting tumble that is breathtaking. Locked together they plummet, cartwheeling, trusting their instincts and their own strength to save them when at last they break apart, only to soar upward and do it all again.

Courtship. Of the most heart-racing kind. A little bit dangerous. Requiring complete trust. But worth it, in the end. And if you didn’t already know, bald eagles mate for life.

That’s why they refill my well, in a way few things can.

 

eagle dance crop

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wait, do I have my holidays confused??

Wait, do I have my holidays confused??

No, I’m not really confused. It is, of course, St. Patrick’s day. Since I’m half Irish, I know this. (the other half is split between Welsh and a contribution from a mercenary Hessian from the American Revolution who fell in love with America and let himself get captured so he could stay, but that’s another story….)

Green cupcake

There, that’s better. More appropriate. I was going to use a shot of a pint of Guinness, but for some reason I can’t find it…..

I’ve sometimes wonder if I would have guessed at my Irish blood if I didn’t already know it. When I first came to the Northwest, after years of trying to survive in a dry, desert region paved over with concrete and asphalt, I was off the ferry out of Seattle less than five minutes before I realized I felt I’d come home. Is it some genetic memory that hearkens back to other green covered land and blue waters? As a child, the first time I heard a Celtic flute, without even know what it was, my heart was filled with longing, an ache I couldn’t define. And heaven help me, the pipes. Yes, yes, I love the pipes. Apparently you either love or hate bagpipes. No denial here. I’ll stop for the pipes anywhere, unless they’re playing Amazing Grace, because then I’ll end up weeping my eyes out.

“Maybe it’s bred in the bone, but the sound of pipes is a little bit of heaven to some of us.” –Nancy O’Keeefe

The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots as a joke, but the Scots haven’t seen the joke yet. –Old Irish Joke

Someone once said to me “Of course you’re a writer. It’s the Irish, you know.” I didn’t know, but there certainly is a stable to choose from. And they do have a way….

“The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man’s fate and man’s follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth. Rarely has a people paid the lavish compliment and taken the subtle revenge of turning its oppressor’s speech into sorcery. ”  T E Kalem

And I have Irishman Brendan Behan to thank for one of my favorite quotes ever, since becoming a writer:

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves.”

No, I’ve never set foot on that green, green isle, but I hope to rectify that some day. How can you not want to visit a land that has a place like this?

"Heavens Trail" A place in Ireland where every two years on June 10-18 the stars line up with this path. (H/T @Earth_Pics )

“Heavens Trail” A place in Ireland where every two years on June 10-18 the stars line up with this path. (H/T @Earth_Pics )

In the mean time, to you all, Irish, part Irish, or not, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc

photo credit: clevercupcakes via photopin cc