I’m still thinking this scene may represent some of the best writing I have ever done. There you go. Just my opinion. I wouldn’t mind finding out what other listeners think. If you do spend time with these two characters, Buzz Jackson and Joann Triche drop me a note let me know how the scene works for you.
September 19, 2015 I was on the Calistoga Fairgrounds. I had jotted that date down in my calendar getting up that morning and driving the hour and fifteen minutes from Emery Cove north to this location intending to investigate this northernmost corner of Napa County. I had come to look over the historic racetrack as I pieced the plot to my next novel together.
The hotshot had fought too hard this season, “You give fire a crack, especially with a five year drought on and she’ll make it a moody unpredictable conflagration every time.” From Women of the Oak Savannahs
National championship motorcycle races were scheduled then cancelled. Instead the fairground became a base for the evacuees of the Lake County Fire burning out of control east of the famed wine growing region.
I met activists and volunteers on fairgrounds that day. I had lunch downtown talking to people arriving to pickup friends, family and their pets to take them home until the fires were put out.
“I pray to god I’m to hell and gone,” another hot shot said, “when that road reopens, and the homeowners are allowed back in. I don’t know if there’s a man among us who has the stomach to witness that much grief.”
This wasn’t the first big fire, but it was the worst of them. Unstoppable wildfire in late summer to early fall have become too frequent. California is a little dryer, a little hotter, and this combination combines with high winds and low humidity to make for near perfect conditions for fire.
Satellite View of the Glass Fire
With the economic recovery after the global financial crisis of 2009 came a run up in real estate prices along with an increased demand for markets seeking Napa Valley wines. Attending a Napa County Planning Commission meeting was to witness a frenzied bubble of speculators rushing to buy a piece of Napa County paradise.
“I hope we never do a show like this ever again.” Jo said. “One is enough, two is more heartbreak than a girl ought to have to bear.”
In the last ten years with most of the valley built-out attention turned to the hills surrounding Napa Valley. One developer then another obtained a permit to build. Tens upon tens of thousands of trees were removed, thousands of acres of vines were planted, homes were built, wells punched, and tasting rooms were opened.
All the while each year there were more and ever more dangerous wildfires in the region. Instead of halting further development, consolidating infrastructure, finding solutions to the traffic choked highways, the pressure to keep approving new developments and keep the expansion on track was the unstoppable force.
“What if the whole world gets so hot that there’s nowhere to run? What are we going to do then?”
“Can’t let that happen.”
Wildfire is forcing Napa County to change its plans. Global climate change is forcing the region to reconsider how to even coexist with the now deadly serious autumn fire season. A small army of specialized scientists already have the answers to questions the planning commissioners don’t want to hear. Hazard insurance for homeowners is about to disrupt the real estate market. The cost of protecting hillside homes is spiking. Water scarcity, salmons fish runs going extinct and a spike in childhood cancer rates plague the once pristine region.
Locals try to keep their chins up but confidence has dipped, knowing at any moment in any future autumn that orders to evacuate their home because of another wildfire has to be planned for. Having to run for your life with what you can grab before a wall of flames ingulfs your home isn’t workable.
Solving this crisis will inevitably turn to working with the international effort to reverse climate change. The singular focus of increasing vineyards to take what precious little water there is here and ship it in the form of wine to over there is no longer viable. Like the pandemic the wildfires are forcing us to reconsider how we may move forward. This is what we confront now. How to preserve and protect our people and world.
Jo bent over and untangled her long hair with her fingers. “I saw that look, the one you’re talking about. After the show, then it hits them all over again, everything they had in this world has gone up in smoke, gone like that, and now? How do you pick up the pieces when there are no pieces left to pick up?”
Recording this novel is coming along. This is a smaller scene but there are challenges. Narrator, three female roommates and a gentleman stopping to say goodbye to one of the women.
The scene is quite intense, there is a lot going on. A character is attempting to create a path to creating a relationship with someone she feels she may be capable of loving.
Ultimately this is a story about a group of pregnant environmental activists trying to halt the desecration of 2500 acres of hillside in Napa County. Here is one of the activists embarking upon a journey she knows nothing about. Her life and this event all coming out of the blue.
I hope some of you might let me know if this works for you. I think it is pretty close, not perfect, but I think I’m getting some of the voices, emotions and circumstances to play as live drama via the novel as spoken word.
Forced offstage due to the virus this is turning out to be a huge performing project and I’m having a lot of fun.
I’m recording my latest novel. Finding the voice work a splendid creative challenge. This is a sprawling complex large cast of characters I’m trying to bring to life. I’ve found the voice of the oil patch baron from Oklahoma City. His voice is not complete, he needs a few more colorings and he’s set.
The narrative passages are straightforward. Where there are challenges has to do with the ambitious vocabulary that I’ve written into the manuscript. My written vocabulary is larger, more muscular, and as it turns out more challenging to read aloud.
Here is a short list of the most important female characters. Circus arts instructor, youthful ambitious political activist, Canadian wine advertising executive, corporate lawyer, vixen roommate, another much younger circus arts student roommate.
Males includes a lieutenant from the local fire department, a rogue deputy sheriff, the sheriff, a pair of 22-year-old man-boy’s, one from a wealthy family the other shy but a physically gifted athlete. There is a motorcycle racing champion, and of course this oil baron.
Technique at the microphone requires careful planning. I prefer to stand than sit, clothes that make no sound help as I like to wave my arms and animate my body as I bring the script to life. I won’t attempt to explain all the challenges and choices to do with setting levels as they are many and I have yet to decide what I like most or least.
All those fancy long sentences I penned are not so willing to be recited aloud without having a good gulp of air before you run off and start the first word while trying to make it to the last.
I’m recording in a closet for acoustical reasons. Fan motors, refrigerators, hallway foot traffic, street noise, birds, unexpected computer chimes and cellphones going off all need to be considered. Patience and persistence are requisite traits of character for this endeavor.
I’ve recorded the first two short chapters. Hah! I thought they were short. I estimate the first third of the novel will span somewhere near three hours. I’ve nearly one hour complete though I’ll have to return (I am sure) and rerecord the initial chapters as the characters voices undoubtably will evolve as I dial them in.
I’m a half breed, part performer and part writer, recording the novel joins my talents dead center at the confluence of my creative life. Having spent decades speaking aloud while performing proves to be helpful but be warned that a sensitive microphone will be the cause of much hell on the path to enunciation’s exacting demands.
Still, here it is, making it up as you go along. In due course I’ll have this novel recorded. We’ll see what audience this journey may find. For now, the creative challenge is the reward. That’s all to my benefit and pleasure. Hope is my zeal for this tale may rub off on others.
Weekend walk was solitary. That in the age of the virus is a good thing. Work on the front courtyard continues. We’ll have guests over sometime at the end of next year. Herd immunity it turns out with a vaccine that is only 70% effective might mean the end of this long period of social isolation may continue for the conceivable and inconceivable future.
Courtyard one board at a time
I’ve two or three actionable items on my agenda. Submitting my current novel for consideration to be published, plotting and planning a romantic comedy, and penning a few more good climate emergency jokes. Of course our climate emergency is serious business but so that we can think our way through to solving this crisis it is wise to help the climate scientists find ways to help the public understand not just the scientific peril we face but to help lift our sagging spirits as we all pitch in and try and save ourselves from ourselves. Just explaining that much turns into an intractable and unbearably long sentence. More work to do, but as we are all finding out we’ve got nothing but time for as far as an eye can see.
Imagining Napa County
Mason is a firefighter. Ruth is an old girlfriend. This is just one of several pairs of relationships locked together in a fight to save what remains of an overrun Napa County…
Mason’s mind was too full.
Ruth was infuriated or not, the irrationality of her anger was hard on the lieutenant’s civic sensibilities. The resolute Canadian surveyed the eyes in the crowd, judgement didn’t matter, Claudia’s contemptible expression on her face was dismissed and irrelevant. The insubordinate woman grabbed Mason, clinched him in her arms and disobeyed department rules and regulations and kissed the man she shared her bed with. After having her way, Ruth leaned back glaring eye to eye until certain Mason fully appreciated the status of her womanhood. Mason stood stunned and that stunning was enough. Ruth hustled off with her flock of mutineers.
Mason dead reckoning with Sheriff Sullivan addressed his superior as an equal. “Anyone hurts her, anyone, I don’t care who they are, they’ll have to answer to me, the father.”
What is not visible to the readers who drift by is that behind the scenes I am wrangling my fourth novel to the finish. I completed the manuscript a few years back and had to set it aside knowing it needed reworking. I didn’t have the stomach for the challenge. There’s a good final draft somewhere to be found in this body of prose and I am doing what I can to complete a splendid fourth novel. Don’t count me out just yet.
My newest work begins in Napa County at the Calistoga Fairgrounds. The fairground was temporarily turned into an evacuation center for the victims of the Lake County Fire. The September 2015 fire was a real event that was folded into a fiction.
Since I began work on this fourth novel there have been a score of monumental fires here and most recent of all in Australia. Here the Lake County Fire burned about 100,000 acres, destroyed about 1800 buildings and killed 4. I have written with all the heart and passion I could muster about this tragedy. Since, another fire and then another fire in the wine country has devastated this part of California.
Fire in this great state is a symptom of an increasingly climate change damaged environment. There are more fires, they are bigger, hotter and more frequent. In some sense they begin to dwarf the plot I had pieced together in 2015 when I had initially set out to do this work.
In Australia the world has witnessed fires that have consumed 15 million acres. You may google the tally if you want more numbers, but they are just numbers and caring survivors attempts to visualize and scale up their imaginations to such monumental size is a difficult task.
I had wanted to write a pleasant pastoral wine country story when I first started plotting my fourth novel. But the climate emergency took over. The urban-wildfire interface was once a rather obscure and irrelevant topic. That was a threat for residents living outside Missoula, Montana.
For years I reserved my environmental concerns to such faraway places as The Great Barrier Reef, Amazon Jungle or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As the size of our problems increased I failed to keep up, to scale my imagination and to reconfigure the plots and purposes of my fiction more work was demanded.
Whole revising my fourth novel one takeaway is that I went far too easy on the events that helped shape this story. Planning commissioners, Board of Supervisors, agricultural special interests and the ordinary citizens caught in the midst of all these forces battling for supremacy have behaved ever more horribly than I had fictionally foretold.
Since the story recounts the fight to save a few thousand acres along the eastern ridge of what forms the Napa Valley a wildfire has since done great damage to this land. If developed the new homeowners will undoubtedly insist firemen come risk their lives not if but when the next big wildfire sweeps through. Further development in the surrounding hillsides of Napa County is untenable and should not be permitted.
In Sacramento the insurer’s that sell coverage for homes in California are contemplating a ten-fold increase in the price of a policy for homes situated near an urban-wildfire interface zone. Homes in such diverse locations as Mill Valley, Lake Arrowhead or perhaps even Palo Alto are looking at having to pay $10,000 per year for fire protection.
None of this makes a novel. I mean what does the price of tea in China have to do with the human condition. Perhaps the difference now is that the problems we are facing are of such scale, contain the seeds of existential catastrophe, threatening virtually all life, a growing menace of such magnitude that small bore stories become irrelevant.
I wish my manuscript was in better shape and I could move on with my next. I’m researching a groundwater water grab attempt up in Northern Nevada by the Las Vegas Water District located way to the south. Nevada’s Las Vegas Goliath is roaming the American West in an attempt to quench the desire to sustain the construction boom.
We’ll see where this takes my writing. I think it needs to be funny no matter what else. We’re going to need to laugh while we try to save the world. I know that to be fundamental fact.
Now I prepare to ride by train from San Francisco Bay to Reno, Nevada where I will encamp with busking friend in Silver City to enjoy a view out his window of nearby Mustang and on Sunday momentary diversion of a good playoff game.
Writing can be quite something, beautiful and moving. When writing is redemptive, inspires, calls a soul to take action, and looks without flinching at our circumstances, it is in this direction our hard work is best aimed.
Many of us, not all, taste our first sip of love from our mother’s heart. Depending upon the woman and her emotional circumstances this is a first glimpse into the unconditioned embrace of being alive we’ll later seek in our grand search across the universe for connection. Seeking love is narrative, finding it is finale, writing beyond the heart struck sweet bliss is pure fantasy. Not all of us have the same capacities, some of us find little love in the world while others find too much, each comes with its own set of awkward circumstances and fates. What a character does with their heart helps us cheer them on or if they fail, the painful demise helps us feel the same human anxiety haunting us all. And we haven’t even talked about the hot sex yet!
Women of the Oak Savannahs… A Fragment
Jessica and Tyler ceased moving, stopped speaking, her cheek set on her pillow, his cheek on his, she searched one eye then his other. Tyler did the same, dialing in, finding they were on the same wavelength, the two had been a tight fit from the first. Every minute or so one or the other would take in a deeper breath and then exhale. With each tick of the clock Jessica’s confidence increased. Pulling her arm out of one sleeve and then the other, she threw Tyler’s t-shirt off the bed, feeling more sure, coming in closer, skin to skin, pregnant, filled with expectation, Jessica left no room for doubt, the time for second guessing was over.