Category Archives: Books

I’m currently in the process of getting my first novel published. I’ll give you the inside scoop of the process.

Ain’t Nothing Changed…

Working the Land over Time

 

“Bingo brother, and you just watch yourself ’cause you can turn one year into ten just like that.” Crow snapped his fingers. “I swallowed a decade in the blink of an eye.”

“That’s a long drift, man, a long time.”

                                    Highway Home 

            Momentum comes in every size and every color. You get a job, it pays the bills. You get into a relationship maybe it works well enough to keep you hanging around. I call it digging in. You get a place and jump into the day to day. For the moment things work well enough. You have stability and that can count. Might be you are working on something, developing something, might be something that develops over a longer time horizon. There are many things accomplished over a longer time frame. Homebuilders know what I mean. I knew a sculpture who worked on large urban sited monumental pieces. Restoring wood boats, writing novels, getting married having a family. There are things we set out to do that take dedication and a commitment of time. There’s a difference between falling into a sweet thing and setting out to do something you’ve made up in your mind to do. The mind sees into a thing only so far, the balance point tips, we run the risk, take the chance, we don’t really know how anything is going to turn out.

A World of Change

San Francisco Bay Bridge at Dawn

“That everything changes is the basic truth of existence.”

                                    Shunryu Suzuki

            We do great harm to our lives when we surround it with worn out old stories. Nothing stays the same. Things are not fixed but rather in a state of flux. We have a lot of change going on in our world. In Japan there is change happening. In our own lives it is happening. It is wonderful in some circumstances to have fond memories of some special moment. Not so wonderful moments take advantage of our minds tendency to cling. We think that Japan is a fixed thing. I look at photographs of centuries old villages here Thursday and now vanished. Everything is gone. They can’t even find the bodies. It is difficult to accept. My mind doesn’t want to believe this can happen (to me). It happens out there somewhere, to somebody else. They were caught in a story. Someone didn’t look both ways before they crossed…. We have this mental trick in our head that tends to be dishonest about reality. We predict when something bad might happen. We avoid certain neighborhoods. We stay off the roads when weather is bad, we hope things will work out. Might be that we would be better served by taking a fresh look every next moment and forget about thinking we know how something might turn out. Might be better to not know how it is going to go. We don’t have to go around believing everything we tell ourselves. I got up Friday morning and it turned out I was wrong about what I believed about Japan. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. That is a fact.

Everything Can Change in an Instant

Gone Forever...

 

      . “The Last Chance” had a neon sign hanging out front. The bar had been there a long time. Ceiling fans twirled aimlessly and easy. Older patrons were smoking and seated at the stools. Two men tossed a few darts at a bull’s eye, while two old gals sat at the corner of the bar drinking high balls and gossiping. It was cozy, dim, and smoke filled.”

                                          Late Night 1979… Portland, Oregon

                                          From the novel Highway Home

            My grandfather was a bootlegger. He built a bar at the end of prohibition in Oakland, California. It had fish tanks behind the bar, mirrors behind the booze. The bottles looked like they vanished into infinity. He had a parrot back where he did the books to keep him company. Bar was glued and doweled, not a nail was used in the Philippine mahogany interior. Place smelled like stale beer and tobacco. By 1965 the neighborhood had changed, swallowed any chance Tambo’s had of making a go of it. Had been a first class operation all the way, but nothing to do but close her down and walk away. Wrecking company demolished the building, would have been salvaged in this day and age. The whole of a man’s life vanished, in an instant, everything gone. Over the years when I can find an old joint to drink in, bars looking as if they’re cheating death, bars misplaced making a last stand in a decaying forgotten corner of a city. When I belly up to a bar, place named The Last Chance, I take a dive like that, I figure somebody must have known, place I can go, drink a few, listen for the voice of my grandfathers wisdom…

Changing Places

Running Hard to the Great Divide...

“At the same time there was a solitude to this place of a kind that was rare. Beyond this last gasp of farms the road began weaving through boulders and ridges and ran higher up off the immense and flat bottomlands. Noel took a dirt track off the highway and rolled amidst the boulders and red rocks into a small pull out where he’d camp for the night.”

                Noel Sanderson on the run after things had not gone his way

                                                            Highway Home

 

            I hit the road as a performer for my first national tour in 1974 with a small circus. I acquired a taste for running the road, sleeping in the back of a truck, going town to town. When I began planning my first novel Highway Home I wanted to tap into that experience, but as fiction not biography. I didn’t want to center the story around the world of street theater more out of instinct than for any reason. Instead I tried to build a close up look at a young man’s life, un-tethered, adrift, exploring, discovering, some days feeling grounded while other days alone and empty. If everything you have is in the back of your truck, if you are earning money working here-there picking up a days work doing one thing or another. If that was your circumstance might be that you just keep driving away time and time again when things turn against you again…young man might think he can keep changing places…eventually we have to own up to the thing, might be what needs changing isn’t located out there….

Changing Saddles

Author Dana Smith outbound on a trail hike...

 

“Let the world do what the world does. I don’t think I’ve ever taken this trail that it hasn’t changed me. Leave in the morning one person, and come back another kind.”

                         June, An old cowgirl from Jiggs, Nevada                            

                                          Highway Home

            Kicking up some dust on a trail hike can do a soul good. When I can get out on a track and let the rhythm of the place set to working against what I’m caught up about I can find a grip I can use to get back to who I am. The less that happens while I’m hiking the more a tonic I feel in my bones. If I got a worry it usually is gone by the time the walk is finished. It is odd how we spend so many of our years under the impression that we aren’t much changed, that we’re pretty close now to what we’ve always been. Good long walk is kind like a long slow cooking of a meal. Food inside a Dutch oven given enough time breaks down and merges into something you can find worth sopping up and eating with a slice of bread. Comes a point if you get on the trail enough that you’ll come to a panorama look out, see fifty miles to the next mountain range, you’ll be looking out into the distance, and you’ll find you are looking right into the heart of who you are right now…

Operation Sex Change

We were made for each other...

 

      At moments Noel didn’t know if what he was doing was actually something she wanted. He tried biting her gently, and she cried out for him to stop, and when he did she held him back and would not let him get away.

                                Highway Home

                                   

            In my first novel Highway Home it was important to build into the story what Noel Sanderson’s sexual experiences looked like. So, that required writing down on paper in detail the whole deal. That meant first I’d have to describe the scene physically. That’s fun to do. Next I had to write down the internal experiences. This was fun too. And in the end the purpose of writing about these personal, private, intimate scenes was to give a reader the most naked view possible of the characters efforts to be fully alive. The young man in this novel wasn’t in a relationship and how and under what circumstances he was able to create sexual contact with a partner is essential in describing how he comes to find relationship. Sometimes we find sex, sometimes we find love, sometimes we find both, and we never really know what we are going to find until we go for it. People in public are different than people behind closed doors. We seldom get candid answers from people when discussing sex. Who wants to tell someone about their one night stands? Some might, but others might emphasis the best experiences, others the wildest, it seems rare that people will explain the most ordinary, simple acts of love. It is as if the sight of that love is so close even they cannot see it. Who wants to tell someone about having sex with someone who is married? Who wants to explain the unconventional behaviors that they’ve been introduced to by a new partner? The sexual experience is a change experience. Who we are before we surrender to someone and who we are after is a catalyst to self revelation, sexuality is one of the most vivid parts of a person’s life. It is one of the most revealing, volitional actions where a writer can illustrate the fundamental nature of change.

Quick Change Artist in Slow Motion…

It's the Good Life....

Take your tambourine and your guitar string and move on down the track
Don’t like the way that you comb your hair the way you drawl you all
And if you’re not out of town before sundown you won’t get out of town at all…

Get out of town before sunset     by Buck Owens

The small time entertainer has been my version of sanity. For most of my life it has driven me nuts having to stay in the same place doing the same thing day after day. I have found it infinitely better to drive from one town to another and pretend that things are different, that I’m escaping from the trap of being stuck in one place. With all the long hops and short stops the new places help keep it feeling like the deck is shuffling. Forget solitude, forget lost, get on out there and go see the world. And then it is as if fate has conspired with your demons and ends up playing its trick on you. The dashboard on the truck starts looking familiar. Truck stops start looking the same. All the small towns seem to be drying up. Yuma can look as bleak to the eye as Columbus, New Mexico. Stripe down the highway in Nevada looks pretty much like the same line you saw up in Montana. Pretty soon that psychic air bag installation has deployed right in front of your big fat delusions. I remember one magnificent sunset some years back. There were clouds in the sky, deepest blue I’d ever thought I’d ever seen, streaks of lavender, bursts of golden buckets of liquid light, saturated with pulsing deep reds, the whole sky afire heralding the end of the day, parked as I was with my rig and travel trailer, overlooking this pyrotechnic swan song to another turning of the cosmic wheel, in another of those small towns, happened to be Bakersfield that day. Stuck as I was in this insignificant corner of creation I could feel the twang and pang of Buck Owens in my heart, the whole thing brought tears to my eyes, what it didn’t bring was any true sense that any of this had made a difference, that all this running around had in the long haul not changed a thing…