Thinking About Thanksgiving

Like many of us, I have many memories of Thanksgiving celebrations, some pleasant, others not. I recall feasting until I could hold no more. And, I can almost taste the turkey and pumpkin pie. I remember our house filled with relatives and vibrant with a festive air. Somewhere along the way, I was made personally aware of the mountain of dirty dishes and pots and pans that accompanied holiday get-together. It gave me some perspective. I came to better realize how much work my mother put into those events.

Of course, there were the usual conflicts and competitions between this and that relative, whose kids were doing best in school, or were getting married, or was prettier. Who had a good year financially, who was drinking too heavily. But, I was young, and it was just fun to see the cousins and enjoy the get-together.

Not all my holidays came with a houseful of people. Not all celebrations reflected a sense of affluence. Some were poignant in their absence of a bountiful year to celebrate. I learned a different basis for thanksgiving in those years. It wasn’t just a huge feast that made the day. A chance for camaraderie and sharing of what was available became important.

When I was in the Navy, the cooks on our ship did a great job of putting out a wonderful meal for the holiday, in port but away from home. One time, I heard the cook express his hurt and frustration when much of the crew chose to eat ashore at a favorite bar instead of eating on board with their “Navy family”. I felt badly for him. He had turned out a great, traditional holiday feast. I learned a holiday like Thanksgiving depends on what participants bring to the table, as well as what food is there to eat.

One of my most memorable Thanksgiving celebrations was with a houseful of people I had not met before. We were in the Los Angeles area, and we were all apart from family that year, so someone sent out invitations to bring people together for a celebration anyway. I loved it. People were interesting and their company enjoyable. Everyone appreciated the opportunity to get together, and did what they could to make the occasion fun and successful. It worked extremely well. These days, many of us find ourselves in some sort of isolation—personally, politically, socially, financially. Maybe that’s why we talk about Turkey Day, rather than Thanksgiving, and Black Friday savings opportunities are more exciting than a gathering for appreciation and togetherness.

I can’t help but think about Bobby Navarro at holiday time, and think I’d like to write a Bobby Navarro novel that includes a holiday setting. I’d like to follow his thoughts and feelings. Would he miss being on the road? Would he feel an increased longing for home? Or, would he just enjoy the day?

What are your most memorable Thanksgiving experiences? Love to hear your thoughts and share your memories.

 

Tip For a Curmudgeon

 I don’t hate tipping, I hate the institution of tipping. It seems too reminiscent of a class structure that treated workers and alms beggars in similar manner. I think workers, minimum wage workers, should be paid enough to live above the poverty level. But, we all know that isn’t the case. Many of us also know that service workers are sometimes paid below minimum wage on the expectation that they will make up for the deficiency in tips. That means a tip, or gratuity if you prefer, does not amount to rewarding good work; it means the business isn’t even paying its employees the minimum wage normally required by law. Doesn’t seem fair.

I had lunch in town, not our village, recently at a popular sandwich and salad place. The food is good, and there isn’t generally a long wait. Of course, you pick up your food order yourself, and bus you table when you finish your meal.  So, while the staff is usually friendly and processes your order quickly, no one waits on you at your table. That’s fine. What bothers me, is this particular place has become pretty aggressive in trying to get customers to tip as well. Tip for what? You serve yourself. Tip because the staff is underpaid? There are tip jars at each cash register where you stand to place your order. In addition, if you use a credit card there is a screen on the card reader that requires you say “yes” you want to leave a tip, or “no” you do not want to leave a tip before your transaction is complete. At that point, you haven’t even picked up your order. It just seems pretty pushy to me. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon. I’ve nothing against the staff. I just hate the idea of tipping, let alone tipping under coercion.

When I tip, I think I’m fairly generous. I had a friend once who didn’t like to leave much of a tip. In fact, you had to kind of watch him because he would wait for everyone else at the table to contribute their share and then cover the bill with his credit card, pocketing the cash. What you had to watch out for, was whether he left an adequate tip for the wait staff or lessened the total due as a result of the generosity of others. I’ve also been in too many situations where a group of coworkers ate together and someone didn’t even leave their fair share, let alone a tip. These are cases of people simply being cheap. Dishonest might be a better word.

I think my series protagonist, Bobby Navarro, always leaves a decent tip when tipping is expected. He’s a down-to-earth, generous guy. He would never stiff a waitress, or a coworker. That just would not be in keeping with his character. I like that about Bobby. I just hate the business of tipping though. How about you? Have you ever read of a private detective or amateur sleuth who didn’t tip well? What’s your take on the whole thing?

By the way, in case you were wondering, I just think it’s good to gripe about something other than politics once in a while. Not that minimum wage isn’t a political issue. Maybe I should be more like Bobby Navarro, just tip well and never mind the rest. But then, like I said, he’s a generous guy, and not at all a curmudgeon.

A Time to Cheer

I had hoped to finish the rough draft of my current novel by Christmas, but I told myself and others my goal was to finish by New Years, because you never know what might pop up to get in the way. Happily, I have finished the rough draft. It’s a great feeling. Of course, last time I finished the rough draft of a manuscript, I ended up completely rewriting the whole thing. I had lost my voice. I had been reading Robert Parker, one of my favorites, and started sounding like a cross between Parker and me. I don’t think that will be a problem this time, but it’s always nerve-wracking to await someone’s response to what you have written. Of course, until then, I have a lot of work to do editing and tuning the present manuscript. Nevertheless, I’m excited to be on track for getting this Bobby Navarro sequel out this coming spring/summer. And, for a few days, it’s time to celebrate.

Of course, when the draft was finished the other day, I enjoyed glass of scotch. That was the official celebration. One of the things I’m aware of when I come to the end of a manuscript is that I feel eager to finish it, but reluctant to let go of the characters and the story. Afterwards, there is a mixture of feeling relief, accomplishment, and loss. The nice thing about writing a series, is that I will be able to work with the main character again. Last night, I had ideas running through my head about another Bobby Navarro story when I was supposed to be getting to sleep, but that’s not what I meant about looking forward to working with my protagonist again.

I remember a Kathy Bates movie, Misery, when a writer celebrated the end of his manuscript with a single cigarette and a glass of wine. Of course, if you saw the movie, you know what came next. I wouldn’t want to have been in his shoes.

Now, I am taking a little time to let the manuscript cool off before beginning the editing process. In the meantime, I have the chance to ride my own motorcycle, play a round of golf, and maybe do some hiking. That’s the advantage of finishing a draft while in Florida. Yesterday, I took a ride down an unfamiliar road that turned out to have a wildlife management area, Du Puis Management Area along one side of the roadway. The area offers hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and even camping. It’s not far away from where we are located, so I’m looking forward to visiting there again.

Over the past months, I have enjoyed hearing from some of you who have visited my blog, and I look forward to bringing more news of Bobby’s travels and adventures in the coming year. Thank you for your support.

 I wish you all happy holidays, and a great year ahead.

Glenn Nilson

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

 

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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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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