Change of Season

I think the geese are moving south. They have been forming into flocks and flying around the area lately, but less so than they were a week ago. A good many of the trees that peeked with fall foliage a week ago have lost their leaves to the wind and the cold temperatures that have taken over this part of upstate New York. My wife thinks it’s depressing. I’ve been sort of cooped-up inside the house the past several days due to a pulled muscle (getting better) in my back, so I’ve been looking out the windows and thinking how much I’d like to go for a hike—to better enjoy this weather. Not that I feel motivated to get outside and work on the things remaining to be done before we head south—I’d just like to take time to hike.  I like the way the woods change this time of year. Without the heavy canopy of leaves, I’m able to see the spectacular tree limbs and trunks. I can see farther through the woods, as well. Deer and other animals, even though more wary now that they are exposed, have become more visible. Instead of just hearing a squirrel chirping somewhere off in the trees, I can see it sitting at the base of an exposed branch.

Even driving is different now. The yellows and purples of autumn fields have given way to browner vistas, and weed stalks topped with frosted, dried flower heads make me think of rattles shaking in the chill winds. Sometimes I get a glimpse of an abandoned structure—an empty house, or collapsed barn—through the bare trees, and I like to think about who the occupants were and what their lives were like when winter used to come to this land decades ago.

I agree, this late fall season is moody, but I love it. It makes me start thinking about things like a pot of baked beans, maybe with some cornbread. I get eager to dig out that winter ski jacket, and boots are suddenly more inviting than the shoes I’ve been wearing most of the time until now. But it’s not just wood stoves and comfort food. There is something about the coming cold that almost resonates poetically, or philosophically, with that part of me I joke about as my “Walander” side, (from the television scenes set in a bleak Swedish landscape). I love this time of year, and this weather. At least, for now.

There’s another reason for this focus as well. You see, I’ve been working on my latest Bobby Navarro manuscript, set in south Florida, where Bobby is camping in Key Largo—in the winter. I wouldn’t take him there in the summer. So, think about it. . .  Bobby is not the sort of guy who hauls his motorcycle on a trailer so he can ride around once he gets somewhere. No, he had to drive down to the Keys on his Harley. It suddenly occurred to me, that Bobby wouldn’t want to ride back north in the middle of winter, with ice and snow on the road. That’s not how you treat your motorcycle. Those aren’t good riding conditions, either. I know. Well, I’ve figured out a couple possible solutions to the situation, but there are probably others as well, and my solution isn’t revealed until about thirty-five thousand words from where I am at the moment—about half way to the finish line. Any ideas?                                           

 

Life on Schedule

In one way or another, it seems we all live by them—schedules I mean. For many of us, an ideal vacation has meant getting rid of the daily schedules of work and everything else. Stay up late, because you don’t have to get up at any particular time in the morning. That sort of thing. And, of course, retirement is something we think about as a period in our lives when we can live according to our whims, not on a schedule. In the same vein, I’ve never liked waking to an alarm, another form of scheduled activity. More often than not, I have trouble getting to sleep when I use an alarm because I know it’s set to go off early and I’m not going to get much sleep.

We have reached that time of year when our scheduled transition to rural Florida is fast approaching. Work that still remains has to be rescheduled due to the closing window of opportunity I have been working against all summer. Vehicle inspections and maintenance have to be accomplished before the semiannual trek south. Florida medical appointments have to be set up before all of the arriving winter visitors push availabilities way off. I also have to push work on my manuscript-in-progress forward, which means fitting more writing into my schedule.

It was my intent to achieve a more balanced lifestyle this season here in the North. I was going to give myself more time for things other than house projects, too. Well, so much for good intentions. Now, I have to consider extreme measures to achieve my goals. Getting more efficient is obviously in order. The answer to greater efficiency? Scheduling my time. That includes my writing time, which has to consist of both the creative bit—writing—and the business side of it, which includes book promotions and the sort. If I don’t set up some workable schedule, the most pressing task will take over my time and life will continue as before—behind schedule. Of course, if I’m going to set up a meaningful daily work schedule, I should make sure I get up at a reasonable hour to get everything on the schedule done. That means setting an alarm. And, I’ll have to put reminders on my computer to change task

at scheduled times, and schedule a break for a few minutes so I don’t sit at the computer too long. Next, I’ll have to punch a time clock to keep track of how I’m doing on my schedule.

My series protagonist, Bobby Navarro is luckier. He doesn’t need an alarm clock, or to be living by any particular schedule. He rides his motorcycle, goes camping, meets people and solves murders. It doesn’t seem fair that I should have to schedule my life more rigorously in order to write about him not living on one. Oh well. . .

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Village Bookstores and the Green Toad

I hear bookstores have become a rarity. For a writer, this is not a good thing. For a reader, it is saddening as well. I still like small bookstores—village bookstores. This Saturday, Lesley Diehl and I did a book signing in the Green Toad. It was fun bringing my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, in my latest publication, Murder on the Mother Road, to both new and returning readers via the signing.

The Green Toad is a bookstore in nearby Oneonta, New York, and is a terrific instance of what a village bookstore can offer. Next door to the Green Toad, is the Latte Lounge, a coffee shop. The two businesses made a large opening in the wall dividing them, allowing customers to drift from one to the other. The Green Toad has some very comfortable easy chairs as well, and you can bring an espresso, latte, or whatever, from next door, sit down and start reading the book you just bought, or are thinking about buying.  It’s a comfortable, homey, and thoroughly inviting setting.

In addition to a great selection of books, the Green Toad carries an array of perfect gift objects. Of course, books make wonderful gifts, too. One man bought a book from each of us as gifts for his mother. As a people-watcher, I was interested to see who visited the store, and how they went about locating a purchase. Oneonta is a college town, and I was delighted to see a large number of young people, who appeared to be students, at the bookstore. There were older people as well, and a few parents with their children.

As the days turn chilly, and people are less likely to take coffee, snacks or lunch sitting at outdoor tables fronting some of the eateries along the street, the Green Toad will become even more inviting. What better way to spend a little time, than cozying up to a good mystery and a cup of coffee where you might also bump into a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Village book stores, like village libraries, are a treasure, both in fond memories and current busy lifestyles.

Vacation or Staycation?

 

I looked it up in a dictionary and read that a vacation is a period of suspension of work, study other activity, usually used for rest, recreation or travel. Now, the dictionary didn’t say how long the period has to be for a trip to be a vacation or how far. And, my dictionary, being nearly as old as myself, didn’t even have a “staycation” entry, so I had to ask Cortana on my computer. It turns out, a staycation involves doing things within driving distance from home, and sleeping in my own bed.

Well, we needed a break, but couldn’t get completely away from work for a “real” vacation.  We started off with an overnight with some friends to an old hotel at a village about an hour and a half away. Okay, we didn’t return home to sleep that night, but was it still a vacation? And, I took my computer and did some writing. Isn’t that work? Well, it’s something I love doing when I travel, and getting back to work on my next novel feels more like enjoying a suspension of projects than anything else. Most importantly, it was really enjoyable. The food was terrific, (always a big thing with me), and conversation with our friends in lieu of nightly television was wonderful.

The next few days, we couldn’t readily get away from home for other overnights. Lesley had writing commitments for multiple blog tours, etc., and our newly-seeded yard needed to be watered every night. Besides, with a little self-permission to go off our diets, (breaking from normal routine), we were able to come up with some great meals on our own, not to mention the pleasure of sitting on our back deck with a glass of wine, reveling in the fact that our stream bank project is finished. We also visited an art museum, went hiking and ate out whenever it suited our pleasure. On top of that, I got in my first round of golf for the season. Oh, and I got in some more writing on my next novel, Murder in Key Largo, (or Killed in Key Largo, I haven’t decided which yet), in my Bobby Navarro mystery series.

At some point, I asked myself whether Bobby would take a vacation. He rides all over the country on his Harley whenever he gets the chance, but that’s often a matter of taking the long way home. In the current work-in-progress he is actually attempting to take a vacation, but, what with becoming involved in solving another murder, can I really call it a vacation?

So, vacation or staycation? You decide. I learned something though. I learned how refreshing an afternoon hike, or visit to some local attraction can be. It was certainly worth the time away from most of our regular work. My hope is that we will do more of this in the months ahead. Your thoughts?

Labor Day Parade

 

Yesterday morning, about a dozen farm tractors, some new, most vintage, drove past our place. I thought they might be gathering for a parade, but it didn’t turn out that way. I tried to get photos as they drove by, but I was too slow. Later, I tried taking a photo of a Linn tractor through the window where it is housed. The Linn tractor was built here, and was used not only on farms, but in the logging industry in the Adirondacks. They were impressive machines, with a combination of wheels in front and tracks for the rear.

I think parades are one of the things that typify village life. They are likely to include a high school band or two, maybe an honor guard of American Legionnaires to carry the national flag, and possibly a few floats as well. Of course, there will likely be a line of fire trucks, and participants will toss candy to the kids lining the sidewalks.

When the usual parade was cancelled in a Connecticut town, a bunch of people decided to do their own. They rode bicycles, with boom boxes (portable radio/tape players) carried on their shoulders. It went over so well, it became an annual tradition. Here, I think a string of farm tractors would have been great, after all, the people who built the Linn tractor helped bring the area into the industrial era.

Would my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, be likely to participate in a parade? I doubt it. But, maybe he would if there were fifty other Harley riders in it. What are your thoughts about parades?

1917Linn Tractor

1917Linn Tractor

1917 Linn Tractor

1917 Linn Tractor

Writing and Life’s Lessons – a Celebration

This past week, I’ve been preoccupied with watching skilled operators using heavy equipment to move something like four hundred tons of stone into place to stabilize our stream bank. On my part, it has been the happy culmination of years of effort, skill development, patience and persistence, along with vital help received from others. There are still no guarantees in life, but the stream is now able to flow freely, like it did before a storm toppled seven giant willow trees and left the bank vulnerable to heavy erosion. The work looks great, and I am confident it is likely to provide our eighteen-seventies cottage with a continued lease on life.

Yesterday, we attended a meeting of our village writers’ group. It was fun, and almost seemed like a symbolic act of celebration. In learning to become a mystery writer, I had to unlearn the style necessary to professional scientific writing and learn how to write a good story. I had to join groups and attended professional events to find out what the trade requires. Most importantly, I had to swallow my pride and keep trying.  Both amounted to seemingly never-ending projects with no clear roadmaps or GPS-guided voices to tell me what to do next or if I was even headed in the right direction.

I guess I can say becoming a writer unexpectedly also prepared me for taking on the  stream bank project. Learning how to interact with local, regional, state and federal agencies, submit and revise plans and permit applications, and to keep trying no matter what has paid off. Now, I can look out across our back yard at a brand new stream bank, one that allows the trout creek to flow freely, unblocked by the huge stumps of the seven giant willows that blew down about eight years ago, causing major scouring of the stream bed and erosion of our bank. And, at the writers’ meeting, I was able to report the publication earlier this year of Murder on the Mother Road, a second book in the Bobby Navarro mystery series, and announce that I have made a good start on the third novel in the same series. Better yet, now I can focus more of my time and energy on writing. Am I happy about all that? You bet I am!

 

One big tree stump

One big tree stump

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Old Friends, or Old Tractors?

 

On the country highway we take into town, (our nearby city), I always enjoy the farmland scenery. Recently, an old tractor showed up under a tree near the road with a For Sale sign on it. Somehow, the image seemed forlorn to me. A little sad, and oddly nostalgic. I’ve seen old equipment for sale. The same with used cars, boats, farms equipment, and things I couldn’t even identify. What made this different, was the setting. I used to do pencil drawings of old barns and covered bridges I found on my New England drives. Often, they were somewhat derelict. There was a sad charm about them, well-suited to venerating with a carefully rendered drawing. The tractor beneath the tree struck me the same way. Had someone learned to drive on that tractor? How many times had it labored with the farmer driving it late into the evening to bring in hay before the rains fell? I’m sure the farmer who owned it went through both good times and bad times with that tractor. Did it ever break down? I think you must get the point. Now, it sat far from the barns and sheds, out near the road, awaiting an interested buyer, like a puppy in an animal shelter awaiting a new home. I know, that’s anthropomorphizing, and I shouldn’t be doing that. Nevertheless, haven’t you ever gotten attached to a vehicle, machine or piece of equipment? It doesn’t always happen, but it can. At the fair last week I saw an old gentleman sitting on an ancient, rust-covered tractor under a tent. I wondered at the time whether it was his, or one like he remembered from some early days of his own nostalgic recollection.

My series protagonist, Bobby Navarro lost a motorcycle in the first novel in the series, Murder on Route 66. I won’t go into details here, but I gave some thought at the time to whether he should have an emotional reaction to the bike’s loss. We all know you shouldn’t go putting your hands on someone’s bike. It’s just not a good idea. Bobby has had that sort of situation occur as well, and felt the emotional response. It’s something to think about…the emotional lives of our heroes. Necessary to good writing, too.

 

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Village Life and the County Fair

This is the week of the Otsego County Fair, and the fairgrounds are down our street, within walking distance. Living near the fairground make it an even bigger event, since we see farmers and vendors bringing their livestock, camping trailers and equipment to set up several days before the opening. Usually the night before the opening, the carnival trucks haul in the rides and booths for their event late into the night. This year, gathering storms and predictions of bad weather intensified the drama, and we were concerned for opening day. As it turned out, the weather was kind, the crowds came, and it was a great day for opening the fair. We were able to get our errands run in time to join the crowds for an annual treat of fair food. Pulled pork stuffed potatoes were a repeat from last year, and we topped that off with a new treat (for us), deep-fried Oreos. No diet worries in that. . .right? Of course, we walked around and looked at all the animals and checked out exhibits. The topper for the evening was the great fireworks display, which we enjoyed in the comfort of our own backyard. We look down the stream and get the best view of the fireworks imaginable. Sunday, we will help out by hosting the one-room school house exhibit for a couple of hours. It’s kind of fun. I actually have some one-room school house experience in my own background.

I haven’t yet had my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, go to a county fair, but he did go to a Rendezvous reenactment in Murder on the Mother Road, and was gearing up to help his ranch cook friend compete in a chuck wagon cooking contest in Murder on Route 66. I think there’s a similarity. These events are longstanding celebrations of community, family and local history. Having a protagonist attend such an event can be an important statement of setting and character as well. Bobby Navarro is not your typical tourist, but he can still appreciate an event of this sort. I can use the event, and his reaction to it, to build my reader’s understanding of who Bobby Navarro is, without ever having to spell it out.

 

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Restoring Order and Moving Forward

Friday was sweltering, now it’s raining and promises to keep it up off-and-on all this coming week. Too bad. The county fair held in our village is starting, and the rain won’t be good for fair-goers. We finally got to move back into our (finished) bedroom. Of course, part of that move segued into going through a lot of clothes and boxes packed away in a storage closet, to dig out several of my drawings to hang on the bedroom walls. (I used to do a lot of pencil drawings and some watercolor paintings.) The long-delayed “Spring cleaning” allowed touching upon old memories while restoring a sense of order to the chaos of our house project. Actually, I think taking on a bit of cleanup, or tidying, can help a person regain a sense of control in life. Other things, like a motorcycle ride, can produce the effect as well. For my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, it’s a motorcycle ride that clears the cobwebs and restores a sense of order to his life. I’ve read a couple of authors who have used cooking to this end for their protagonists. I like that, too, both cooking and the fact other authors have their protagonists cook. A good story needs problems and crises to be resolved, but sometimes it’s good to see the hero stop and take a breath, and do so in a way that seems both real and possibly familiar.

Vegetables From the Garden

Vegetables From the Garden

Birthdays

Yesterday, we were supposed to be on Goodyear Lake helping a friend celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make it. It was s a beautiful day, and being on the lake is a great setting for a party. Of course, our friend loves to throw parties, so the deck overlooking the lake rounds out the perfect setting. Lesley usually throws a party for me in the Fall. Not sure what we’re going to do this year, but with everything we have been caught up in, a big party sounds like too much to take on at this point. A quiet dinner at a nice restaurant can be a terrific way to celebrate one’s birthday, too.

Thinking about birthdays has brought back some memories of when my sons were young. I once held a birthday sleepover. Boy, do young children have a lot of energy. I can’t think of any stories I’ve read in which a series protagonist celebrates his or her birthday. I suspect one reason might be that a protagonist’s age can be a bit of a problem. It has to do with whether you want your protag to age a year with each year that actually passes. It’s hard to hold a character apart from some kind of aging process because of the way the world keeps changing. You want your protagonist to be relevant to what is going on in the real world, but not tied too closely to the news or calendar. For example, I had to give my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, a cell phone because your rarely see public pay phones anywhere, and everyone now expects a person to have a cell phone. If you are writing about someone who doesn’t, it’s pretty much an historical novel.

So… birthdays? I suspect Bobby Navarro didn’t have many birthday parties as a kid. As a result of writing this blog, I’ve started giving the matter some thought. I think I’ll have to incorporate something about birthdays in my current Bobby Navarro novel. Who knows?

In the meantime, we still enjoy our backyard view of the stream.

 

Butternut Creek

Butternut Creek