A Writer’s Lament

A Writer's Lament
I cannot think of a thing to write,
And here it is, Saturday night.
Something for my blog is due
And I’ve not one idea that I can use.
My mind is empty
I’m drawing a blank
I couldn’t turn a phrase
With a platinum crank
All I’ve done
This week and last
Is to work on my novel
To get it done fast.
I’ve still fifteen thousand
Words yet to go
But, I’ve forgotten what happens
At the end, and so
I’m stuck.
 I had some ideas, at first,
And a plan
For a story exciting
In a setting so grand.
With characters you’ll never
Want to forget
And an ending that will blow
Your mind to bits.
That was then.
This is now.
If I can’t get moving
I’ll soon have a cow. 
And, I still have my holiday
Shopping to do.
My credit card is maxed-out
And the bills are due.
I know people say, ‘tis a time to be jolly,
Hang up a wreath,
Some bells and fake holly.
But, Lord, if I weren’t brain dead,
I could finish my blog,
Have a drink,
Go to bed.
So, before I conclude
This writer’s lament
Let me wish you great joy
And a holiday well-spent
From me and my protag
Bobby Navarro


At Home

Feeling at-home can apply in a lot of situations. I used to feel that way in airports a long time ago when I traveled on business. A familiar airport offered a feeling of sanctuary. I could relax until my flight was ready for boarding. I could read, or do some work on my laptop. There were no external demands or likely interruptions. I once enjoyed something of the same feeling when I commuted to and from downtown Los Angeles. Admittedly, that was prior to cellphones.

Where I grew up, people used the expression, “Please make yourself at-home”, meaning they wanted you to feel comfortable with them and in their house. As snowbirds, my wife Lesley and I look forward to seeing people we haven’t seen in months each time we perform our biannual trek north or south. As we were indulging in our morning walk recently here in rural Florida, some friends we encountered said, “Welcome home”. Our southern friends more often say, “Welcome back”, the assumption being that home is somewhere in the North. These friends live here year-around, so this has become home to them, and I took their comment as a warm gesture back into the fold, a recognition of our belonging.

We live on a canal, and treasure viewing the wildlife parading back and forth. Tall egrets stand on the shore, looking to spear a meal in the opaque waters reflecting palm trees standing tall in the background. A green heron wading in the shallows darts its head out to feed on insects along the water’s surface. Two limpkins strut nearby, loudly proclaiming ownership of the canal, and an anhinga flaps its outstretched wings to dry off in a patch of fading sunlight, ignoring the limpkins. In the distance, a flock of white birds explodes into the evening sky, swooping, and wheeling several times before settling into the branches of tall oaks for the coming nightfall. A train sounds its horn as it approaches the crossings it must pass on its northerly run. I inhale deeply, to drink it all in, and suddenly I’m at home again in our southern location. Happens every time. Things are friendly and pleasant, but I get the sense of being at home here when I’m outside, enjoying the wildlife.

My series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, feels at-home when the highway vibrates up through the fast-rolling tires of his Harley and exhaust pipes sound a familiar melody. He’ll also feel at-home when night falls and he locates an inviting motel, or sets-up in a campground, builds a fire and suddenly there’s the fragrant scent of cedar smoke or crackling birch wood in the evening air.

I think Bobby feels more at home when he’s on the road than when an adventure is over, and he’s back in his rental. I suspect he’s not alone in that regard. How about you, or your protagonist? What provides a sense of home, or home-away-from-home, for you or your favorite character?

 

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Limpkin at Dusk

 

A Mystery for the Times

We spent this past week making final preparations for, and then completing, our semi-annual trek south. The first day out was unusually warm and pleasant. Although we got on the road no earlier than in past years, we both felt it had been less stressful this time. Better organization. We enjoyed a beautiful fall drive through the hills of New York and Pennsylvania to reach our first night’s destination. Then had snacks, a drink, and a pleasant dinner. By that time, we were curious how the election was going, and spent the evening transfixed by the unexpected results. Well, not completely unexpected in that this election seemed beyond belief all along.

Since election night, I have found it impossible not to dwell on the whole, arduous affair. That’s why this blog is so behind my expected posting date. It took time to gather focus. Now, we’ve largely unpacked and settled into our place in rural Florida, and I’m thinking I need to get back to my current novel, another in the Bobby Navarro series. It’s a story with a victim, a killer, and an amateur detective, and you can be sure good will win out in the end. After all, it’s not a Greek tragedy—it’s a murder mystery.

I love a good mystery. I don’t consider them merely entertainment, escape or, as some do, a lesser form of literature. Of course, a good mystery is entertaining, and can take us away from the cares and stresses of the day. That’s a plus in my book. Good mysteries can also inspire us to think about things we might not have even known about before, or introduce us to a setting with which we are totally unfamiliar. Mysteries do include meaningful depictions of bad deeds and events, and often of bad people, but are not usually filled with gratuitous sex and violence intended merely as cheap thrills. They are neither simplistic, nor hopefully, duplistic, while presenting a cast of characters to be sorted out as to who’s guilty of the murder, and who is not. But, there’s always more to the story than simply whodunit. That’s what makes them worth reading.

A good mystery can make us think about social issues and the morals and values we believe this country has struggled to achieve. I’m glad I’m a writer—a mystery writer. Writing good mysteries is one way to oppose bigotry, hatred, violence and greed in a format in which good ultimately prevails. Something for the times.

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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