Monthly Archives: December 2011

Small moments

In a year that was memorable for me personally, it’s easy for some moments to become overshadowed by more dramatic and attention-grabbing events. Those headlining memories earned their starring roles by virtue of how they altered my life, or at least my perception of that life. Tracing back through the year, they were:

December 13 – The release of my debut novel – “Harvest of the Heart”

November 25 – My daughter’s first, sudden “attack”, experienced a few weeks after giving birth to her first child. The symptoms were similar to those of a pulmonary embolism. Though it turned out to be caused by gallstones, and surgery has eliminated that cause, the first episode scared me to the core.

November 4 – Being present at the birth of my fifth grandchild. I am forever grateful to my son-in-law, who felt comfortable enough with my wife and I to allow us to help with the delivery. My four children were all born at home and witnessing Chaitan’s birth brought back so many strong memories.

March 11 – Completion of the manuscript for “Harvest of the Heart”. It was then that I knew that I had a chance — after thirty-seven years of biding my time in jobs that I only tolerated — to have a job that I loved.

You can see how these events could overwhelm my perception of this year when I look back from some future date. But there were many other small moments that I wouldn’t want overwhelmed… or lost to a failing memory:

Cutting trees for firewood in the forest by myself and dropping them exactly where I wanted. Then going back again with witnesses and having one blow over in the exact opposite direction from where I wanted it to go. The disconcerted expression on my son-in-laws face during that was likely matched only by my own.

Staying at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park; it was a surprise gift from my wife for completing “Harvest of the Heart”. Stephen King had stayed in the same hotel and it was there he got the idea for “The Shining”. The entire trip was filed with memorable moments which have already produced a story for me.

So many running memories… porcupine quills and downhill mile intervals at 10,000 feet; doing the Silent Trails pre-run at night with a bunch of guys way faster than me — it felt good to know that there is still a little life in these old legs; qualifying for Boston after once thinking that it might never happen again; the ghost moose run, the Christmas spirit run and so many more. Thanks to Dailymile, I just have to click back to discover those memories.

Snowshoeing during my ten-day fast and my wife coming back to me on the trail and giving me a kiss “to give me energy”. That hike may have been the first she had ever led during our thirty-five years of marriage and she was so careful to choose a path that was easy enough for me to handle.

The looks on grandsons Braden’s and Nathan’s faces while they watched the bull-riding at their first rodeo when they visited in July.

How helpless I felt when confronted by the heartache of someone dear to me who had to endure a painful separation from someone he loved, but who no longer loved him.

Seven-week old Chaitan staring so deeply into my eyes and being moved by the knowledge that those eyes will see so much that is beautiful and horrible in the years to come; hoping that maybe he’ll help preserve the beauty, and eliminate the horrible.

Shopping at the Cross Country Connection in Laramie and my wife trying on a winter hat that framed her face so perfectly. I was stunned by how beautiful she still is; and how much her smile still makes my heart beat faster.

There are certainly many other moments that I haven’t mentioned, or are already forgotten, or at least I cannot call them to mind as I write this post. But it was those small moments, remembered or not, that complemented and filled the spaces between the large ones and made 2011 a truly memorable and happy year.

I wish for you that 2012 will be just as memorable and happy as my 2011.

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. This blog was started eight weeks ago.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,400 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The sky reflects a troubled spirit

Once again my run turned into an introspective drama. As the day passed into night, the sky spoke to me while I made my through a prairie roiled by relentless wind. I take that back; spoke is too kind a word. Chastised is closer to the truth… berated might be better still.

I have felt out of sorts for the last couple of days and I have avoided trying to pinpoint why. Good things have been happening in my life; a happy new baby in the house, my health on an upswing and a book published. Even the not-so-good things have had silver linings.  Since the birth of my fifth grandchild, my daughter faced a health issue that has allowed me to play a contributing role in our household. I’ve felt needed after a year during which, as a wanna-be writer that wasn’t producing an income, I often didn’t.

I’m certain that my wife and daughter thought I was absorbed in reading books that I had received for Christmas. “Claiming Ground” and “The Hunger Games” I’ve just finished and I’m well into”The Passage”. They are captivating stories, which has helped keep me from facing the cause of a mild depression that is, inexcusably, lying just below the surface of my cheerful facade. The cause for said depression was also close to the surface — easy to reach if I only made the effort. Hence the reason I’ve been burying myself in the pages of one book after another.

But nature and my sub-conscious conspired this evening to force my hand.

Swirls of turbulent gray skittered across the sky, driven by a steadily increasing wind. High above me, an angry presence loomed – the tops of many of the clouds were painted a fierce red by a sun that was already beyond the western mountains. From the very start of my run, it was as though nature itself  was disturbed by and reflected my inner turmoil.

As I followed the narrow trail between rustling stalks of dried switchgrass and needle-and-thread, dodging the gust-driven tumble weeds, I felt buffeted by more than the wind. I was forced to admit the cause of my unsettled state, and that is doubt.

That every author has to face this insidious, tenacious creature doesn’t make it any easier for me. Right now it isn’t doubt about my writing ability, although I worry that will come hand-in-hand with the first negative review. What I doubt is my stamina and commitment for staying the course, for being willing to take my lumps and forge on. The promising early sales have ended and my naive hopes that “Harvest of the Heart” would take off and that sales would become self-sustaining have been dashed. Lots of hard marketing work remains that I, as a self-published author, will need to do myself if I want to succeed.

But I am eager to write, not sell. If I have to personally seek out and make every sale, I don’t know that I can do it. It is a little depressing that I’m feeling this way already. A lot of Indie authors would probably be overjoyed with the positive reviews and over eighty books sold in two weeks. But the truth is, I’m scared that, once my physical launch is over on January 12, that sales will fade away to nothing. How brave they are, the writers that absorb this type of disappointment for years, but stay the course and achieve ultimate success.

I’m not going to quit, I know that much; but I’m mad at myself for letting this doubt take the wind out of my sails; for zapping some of the energy that is needed to talk to bookstore owners and to keep working the social media in the hopes that sales will follow. I’ve been trying to wean myself from checking my sales statistics; I know I should ignore them since looking at them won’t change them… only marketing will do that.

Of course I am using running and this blog as a cheap substitute for a therapist. Running helps me think things through and writing it out helps me to work it out. I’ve set goals, and planned steps to reach them. Here is where I need to act as my own coach and say to myself, “Stop being such a wuss! Get out there and fight for your dreams!”

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Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over the past few weeks I’ve found myself becoming hyper-critical of books I’ve been reading, even while I enjoyed the stories and admired the talent of the author. As a result of the editing process I’ve undergone with my own book, I have found it hard to “lose myself” in the narrative of a story. Early in “The Hunger Games” I struggled with the author’s habit of contracting “is” with a variety of nouns; I was searching for flaws. Thankfully, that didn’t last.

By the seventh chapter I was hooked and whatever quibbles I may have had disappeared as a fascinating, troubled future formed from the words in my Kindle. While the seeds of this story may have come from television’s “Survivor” and “American Idol”, combined with a variety of apocalyptic movies including “Thunderdome”, the real and gritty humanity that Collins draws from her characters makes any comparison worthless. The first book leaves me eager to get into the second and see how Kat, Gale, Peetna and the rest of the engrossing cast fare in a country that seems primed for revolution.

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Review: Claiming Ground

Claiming Ground
Claiming Ground by Laura Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is flea market in Laramie south of Interstate 80. Much of it is a warren of eight by eight cubicles some of which are filled with little more than yard sale cast-offs while others contain what would be considered treasure vaults by collectors of one type or another.

Meandering through this motley, colorful, bizarre microcosm of life where the strange and familiar sit side-by-side is similar to reading “Claiming Ground”, a memoir by Laurel Bell. Almost every page contains some trinket that draws your eye and forces you to pick it up and turn it over and over in your hands to discover what manner of treasure you have found.

And, every so often, you find so wondrous a gem that you cannot bear to set it back on the shelf.

“I want to stand in the moonlit shadow of Heart Mountain and claim something solid and enduring. I want to be this mountain, but my life feels more like a hall of trick mirrors with a different view in each one.”

At 242 pages, “Claiming Ground” is not a long book, but it took me a week to finish it, despite the fact that I enjoyed it immensely. As with a flea market, I found myself tarrying too long in one place.

My only small criticism of the book is that much of it, although full of captivating prose, felt disjointed, like a collection of wonderful knickknacks which seem unrelated one to another. You are not drawn forward through the book.

That is until the final sixty pages. Throughout the book, Bell’s honesty impresses. At the end, it transfixes and impales; moving one’s heart in ways both painful and comforting.

I have found yet another writer who challenges me to grow in my craft. Christmas was yesterday and it is too late to wish for another gift. At the top of my list for next year is a wish to learn the crafting of a sentence as strong and lyrical as the hundreds that Bell has spread through “Claiming Ground”.

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Ruined on Christmas

On this Christmas morning, I sit alone next to the slumbering iron heat of the wood stove and beneath the towering green sparkle of our Christmas tree and worry that becoming a writer has ruined me.

In the years that have flowed beneath similar trees, a book would be in my hands, the pages turning rapidly as I became lost in the new smell, and words, of another adventure, another mystery… or something darker. All my family and friends knew that a book was the gift certain to bring real pleasure to my Christmas morning.

Now the unfamiliar position I am in this morning is two-fold. For the first time, I am one of the first to creep out of bed to see the unwrapped joy lying about the foot of the tree. This is a change that feels right. I am of an age that sitting quietly and waiting for the world to awaken gives me comfort.

The second difference to this Christmas is not comforting at all. A book is in my lap and the pages are turning; that is how life should be. The words on the page weave their magic and attempt to draw me in.

But I find myself resisting; the new writer in me either looking for flaws — or the secret to this author’s particular brand of wizardry. I’m enjoying the book, but I am not pulled into another world.

Then I am drawn to the keyboard with a need to record these thoughts, all the while jealous of the reader sitting alone under the tree, lost in some wondrous story… the reader I was in years gone by.

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Our Silliest Christmas Tradition

Christmas lights pretending to be flowers.

‘Tis the season for tradition — eggnog, candy canes,  a wreath on the front door, a Christmas tree in the living room — these are touchstones of the season,  common constants that help subconsciously prepare us for other, sometimes absurd, customs that are revived every year at this time. In the meals we eat, the decorations we hang, and the clothes we wear, tradition rears its sometimes silly head and makes us do things that are somehow embarrassing and heart-warming at the same time.

I’ve heard of many, shall we say unusual, traditions that rival those in our family: pantyhose stockings hanging on the mantle, deer jerky left for Santa instead of cookies and milk, the Christmas steak and shrimp dinner, immediately putting on any gift that is wearable, watching Die Hard on Christmas Eve; I’m sure your family has at least one odd custom of its own. The comical variations of the “Santa Hat” alone are too numerous to mention. (For those unenlightened masses, a Santa Hat is what the person handing out the gifts must wear. This is often passed from one person to another throughout the process of digging the Christmas tree out from under a mountain of brightly wrapped gifts.)

I’m not exactly sure how all of our own family’s traditions came about, but there are several that I find downright comical.

The first has to do with Christmas stockings. (This came from my wife’s side of the family.) For us, Christmas stockings are used for replenishing all the personal hygiene items that we may have used up during the year. The stockings may be hung from the chimney with care, but we pack those red felt suckers chock-a-block full of toothbrushes, toothpaste, lip balm, tissue packets, soap, foot powder, deodorant, skin lotion, combs, and other assorted items that you usually pick up at the pharmacy when you’re getting low on them during the year. Instead, we use Christmas to stock up on all that stuff. Thrilling isn’t it?

Christmas gifts.

Image via Wikipedia

Of course, one of the neat things about this tradition is the rare occasion when some incredibly special gift is slipped in among the dross. Imagine you’ve opened everything under the tree and been secretly disappointed that your husband hadn’t delivered anything memorable. You go through your stocking gifts opening up all the standard stuff that you could have bought in fifteen minutes at CVS. Suddenly, Christmas is saved! (Along with the aforesaid husband.) When you get to the bottom, you find a ruby and diamond ring wrapped in a piece of tissue paper.

Our second silly tradition is of my own devious creation. Almost every year since we were married in 1976, I am usually involved in some home improvement project or another. That project was usually started long before Christmas and had been dragging on… and on… and on. In those years, I usually will work ridiculous hours trying to finish up some dramatic portion of the project in the wee hours of Christmas morning. Then my wife would wake up and be surprised that the kitchen cabinets finally had doors, or a new light fixture had been installed. This allowed me to get Christmas gift credit for something that I was obligated to do at some point anyway. Believe it or not, the same woman has remained married to me for almost 36 years despite such nonsense.

I get to our family’s final silly tradition with a mild sense of melancholy. Many years ago, when he was in his mid-teens, my eldest son gave my wife a piece paper that listed nine great golf gifts. That’s it, that was the gift. My wife has never played golf, except the miniature kind; neither has my son. It was just a silly joke on his part. The next year, my wife gave it back to him, packaged in a way that made him thing he was getting something special. He gave it back to her the year after, and a tradition was born. That little piece of paper went back and forth for years. One year, my wife stole it back from my son and gave it to him two years in a row. Another Christmas it went missing, only to turn up the next, providing an even bigger surprise for the recipient. For myself and my other children, this annual battle of the nine golf gifts provided an amusing undertone to the annual opening of Christmas gifts. But in recent years we’ve been disappointed, for this tradition has died.

It didn’t expire from any neglect or a lack of desire to continue said tradition. With all the changes and moving that has gone on in all our lives over the past several years, the list of nine great golf gifts has gone missing, apparently for good. We all mourn the loss of that silly piece of paper. It had become, like all good traditions, a bridge to the past, to times that we felt connected to more closely as a result of observing a seemingly ridiculous little custom.

So I want you to celebrate, and revel in, your silly family traditions. No matter what they are, you’ll miss them if they ever go away.

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