I write a novel after making a plan. The initial work includes list of scenes I want to put my list of characters into. I want them to have to go through some things on the way through the story.
I knew that planning a novel about saving 2500 acres of oak woodlands was going to be based on readers caring about the characters that have found themselves joined to the struggle.
I wanted two very intense people try to grapple with how their greatness has been the cause of so much interpersonal failure.
Each scene adds another building block to this effort to hook readers into caring. And of all the things worth caring for, the characters may be the most important.
This is not a sex scene, this is a surrender your heart scene, to a complete stranger, a pair having some kind of love at first sight experience, both having been not so much unlucky in love but more a bit too clever and professionally pressured to make room for love.
The novel can’t work unless this scene works. This is a clash between two immensely talented, proud, vulnerable, successful, competitive people who more than anything else can’t quite admit out loud how much they both crave the possibility of creating a durable intimate life with a partner.
Here is their first meeting. Shocked, blown away, struggling to make their way in, both stumble from start to end trying to figure out what it is they have found.
Tuesday I am driving from San Francisco to Denver. First stop is Silver City, Nevada. Wednesday will shape more east on Highway 50 for Baker right on the Utah border. Will see how much stomach I’ve got for road Thursday. If I make it to Glenwood Springs, Colorado that would setup striking distance to arrive in Littleton on Friday.
I’ve been worried for four years about the sanity of our Executive in the White House. I have been looking at the problem of climate emergency we’re trying to come to grips with for a good many years more. Add the emerging pandemic from the Coronavirus to the existential threats and you’ve got yourself a red-hot short list to what is keeping responsible military officials at the Pentagon awake night and day.
Now an unwanted bug is going viral. In honor of this threat and in consideration of the hazard it represents, my wife and I are battening down the hatches here at the one-man and one-woman amusement park. We are provisioning our apartment in Colorado this weekend. Being sailors we’re expert on stocking a pantry with dry goods. That bit of nuttery has caused us both much Mormon like sorrows.
Cruise ships are departing harbors across the globe as I write this tomb of viral doom, but among my vast readership, (vanity project) are there any anti-vaxxers ready to learn they are confined offshore on an infected ship? Didn’t think so.
Hunkering in an apartment isn’t so bad when considering the alternatives. The writer and his best half are both quirky vegans. You’d think Darwin would smile down upon such vaunted immune systems and I’m sure Charles is doing exactly that from high on but how much faith would you put in a grinning angel short of seeing one at closing time in the prime of your lost post adolescent youth?
I place my marker, and I am not a betting man, this is not a wager, this is a concern, and what has my attention isn’t today but where the numbers might suggest we are headed two weeks from now.
Running across Nevada dawn to dusk Wednesday. The Silver State delivers a respite from the crush of humanity. Nevadan’s possess a warmhearted insular misanthropic neighborliness. Crusty rural types are as likely to give you the shirt off their back as to toss a baby rattlesnake at your feet so they might get to laugh as you try dancing for your life.
The rows of mountain ranges oriented north to south come upon a traveler like waves. Dunes, snow capped peaks, pinion and juniper groves, everywhere sagebrush. High desert is stark, cold, seductive.
A desolate Great Basin landscape feels prescriptive. Putting all the troubles in the world in the rearview mirror, striking out on Highway 50, piling up one-hundred miles of nowhere and nothing is a soothing means of catching up on all those insoluble puzzles I’ve been intending to finish.
My wish list is short for things I’d like to see fixed. End fossil fuel subsidies and transfer that assistance to the renewable energy sector. That would be one thing. Next, remove the current autocrat running amok from the Oval Office. And last, wish you all a safe journey and good health through this rough patch that is barreling at light speed toward our precious Mother Earth.
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.
Women of the Oak Savannah’s, my fourth novel has started and ended my day for what will soon be two years. I stand on the edge of the end of my work of seventy-five thousand carefully chosen words.
Hot Spring Honeymoon, my previous novel, a sexual farce was in the wheelhouse of my native mind. This current work descends into the politics and economics of a more ruthlessly ambitious place and people. The story is set in the idyllic pastoral Golden State splendor of the much overwhelmed Napa Valley.
I had gone to Calistoga looking for a story, and as wildfire and fate struck, I found a billionaire funded world renowned globalized tourist destination being crushed to enterprise death by an influx of people coming to lay claim to a piece of this once unspoiled earth that no longer can exist under the current circumstances.
Four hours east and much like Yosemite National Park an endless stream of automobiles crawl bumper to bumper into a preciously small overcrowded valley. The once vast and open American West has been corralled and branded. There are still empty places, still small wineries just not here. Here is not small. Here is not quiet. Here is a place in flux.
Makes for one hell of a story so long as you have the stomach for oak trees being cut down, groundwater being pumped dry, every agricultural chemical known to winegrowing being sprayed from north to south, east to west over every acre of arable land.
There are just too many of us and too few acres for them. That pretty much sums the plot up. Never intended to do a full double-twisting somersaulting tower dive into the realm of the American environmental literary greats. I didn’t mean to go all freaking Thoreau on you. No matter how much I never shave my chance of looking like John Muir is slim to nil to none.
So, here I am. I imagined at the beginning perhaps a quaint quasi-romantic Nancy Meyers bit of romantic fluff emerging from the laboratory of my writing desk. No, not this time. Here we go up against the fat-cats and bulldozers, the multinationals and the overzealous entrepreneurial pterodactyls. I have set down in long fiction form a story about a pregnant woman with her whole life in front of her fighting to save what remains of a place she has come to love.
Rolling right along with the final edit shoving off from the shores of the first page in February and since have sailed across some seventy thousand words to this the last day of May. A mere fifteen pages are all that remain of the voyage. I have been racked with nasty bouts of ego induced fear. I have brooded over the loss of rhythm, been in fool death swoon over an editors rejection of a term I had fallen so in love with. Whole paragraphs had to be disassembled and then reassembled again and again until fit for literary consumption. He-he-he’s had to be excised. She-she-she’s terminated. Indefinite words hunted down and killed. I have had to get off my desk chair go to the mirror look at myself and admit that an entire scene had been a failure, that there was no revising that could make what was never there to begin with suddenly magically appear. But, we now are near this other side of this journey. I haven’t the slightest idea of whether this story will fly, couldn’t know and wish I did. I know I love my wife. That is sure. My earliest version was read by a trusted inner circle. On the basis of a wide range of reactions I plunged into what I hoped and what all writers hope will be the final edit. My editor lashing me daily with columns bulging with corrections and suggestions, a thousand miseries rolled up into one exquisite exclamation point aimed directly at my shattered confidence. Then, when they’ve got you right where they want you, when all hope is lost, there comes a point in the process where you are so deluded as to dare say… not bad.
Fragment from the Novel
Jo heard voices but was overtaken, the intensity shoved her closer to her rawest self, the pain unspeakable. She gripped hold of Buzz and Jessica’s hands, every sinew of muscle in her arms, every vein in her neck strained, as her body’s biochemistry ripened her thoroughfare, the gateway to life, the moment of incarnation was by and by nearing as the much anticipated new soul’s head began crowning, closing in upon the first breath.
“That’s right, you are a magnificent woman, good work mama baby-maker,” the doula’s soothing voice laced with confidence. “Come on, another breath, the air is free, take it, that’s right, it’s a good day for your love to come on out and meet everyone.”
Scene from remains of the Valley Fire, Lake County, California
September 16, 2015 Napa Valley
High aloft the aerialist gripped the climbing rope. Beyond a brownish orange sun went lost in a smoke filled sky. Helicopters, Super-Huey’s thump-thump-thumped eastward to the front. In the tumult of the still out of control wildfire the aerialist startled the audience with a swift descent back to the ground. The rhinestone bejeweled woman slipped one foot then the other into her glittering silver clogs. Each knee-high-stride was accent, twirling her palms face up, she tickled the ovation with her fingertips. The incessant droning of the Grumman Air-tankers crisscrossing the sky mixed with the audience’s anxious murmurs. Within the respite of the struggle to survive a showgirl’s smile simmered across her lips. The heavy oppression of the air reeking of acrid smoke pressed a sorrowful reality down upon the fairground. Jo assumed a dancer’s first position, her concentration slipping away, mind wandering, locking eyes with the motorcycle racer for one part of one instant, then in the next breath the performing artist vanished out of the light away into the night.
Long fiction takes like what seems forever. I plotted for much of a year and began composing my fourth novel on November 1, 2015. You are looking at 171 of 72,000 words. My editor and I are nearing the end of our fixing the manuscript. Fatigue sets in during the late editing process. I have been back to the first paragraph on many days all along the last seventeen months. The opener has been through hundreds if not thousands of rewrites. We’ll see if it stands up and carries the day, the previous version measuring 123 words. I had sought to keep the paragraph compact, but the shorter opener lacked the visceral imagery to do with the fire. I like this version. If you wonder whether you have what it takes to write long fiction you might ask whether you have the constancy required to read, reread and revise your prose until they are all arranged to the best that you can stand to do.
Norm Ornstein describes the partisanship to have metastasized into tribal warfare. Tribalism is about being a member of a group that you are above all else loyal to. Privatization, sending programs back to the states, rejection of spending on infrastructure, no new taxes, lower old taxes, and dismantle social welfare programs. That’s the village they want to live in.
The scorched earth strategy is not a tactic and it decidedly not a means of governance, it is Donald Trumps first and last Fox Television tested means to all ends. All of this ends in stalemate. Until the tribe can get back into the White House. Then, they’ll ram through the tribes greatest hits and most damaging harms.
The tribal members on the Supreme Court have been perfect shills for Big Business. Follow the money and the spigots they open or close attune perfectly to what is big and powerful and away from what is small and not wealthy. Messing with the right to vote is just a bon bon to their tribes efforts to hold on to power. The rest of it is disinformation to cloud their penchant for wanting to help those born with silver spoons in their…..
The tribalism around Scalia’s exiting this reality is pure rocket fuel. The tribe already in a spiral, many wondering when the whole stinking thing will blow, has found a sword to fall on. Teddy Cruz and Marco Rubio (both suspected of being ineligible to actually be President by circumstances of birth as explained by a political Republican operative in Nevada) promise full on filibustering any nominee put forward by the obviously illegitimate executive presently illegally occupying their home on Pennsylvania Avenue.
That’s us in a nutshell, and what a nut it has been. Tribalism, not movement conservatism, comes closer to our understanding what the country is up against. The flippant tone of my comments aside this kind of behavior is dangerous for all of us. I never thought I’d see us going off the cliff in a clown car… but, that’s looking more and more like one version of our end to this current hell we find ourselves stuck in.
Good morning from San Diego. Will report there is some fog out my eighth floor window at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The heatwave seems to be over. National Weather Service is expecting another record setting week ahead. Welcome to life between the heatwaves. My barber on Melrose in Hollywood expects the warm weather to last until November. Don’t trust him with a straight razor.
It feels to me that there is just a bit too much ramming speeding colliding with jamming tactics going on. All this ramming and jamming creates blowback. What I mean is that we’ll rot in traffic for so long and then the lid on top our head blows… its our eighth chakras urging us to abandon our fear of change.
This past week I’ve had to stick my head way up into what the Napa County Planning Commission’s business. It ain’t pretty peeps. They’re grinding through the process of approving, of allowing, of altering, scaling back, of listening sincerely, then doing what they were going to do in the first place. Theirs is more of a jam it up, then ram it through game than the other way around.
Dispensation of the last permissions to the last parcels as the wine country approaches full capacity is to witness the malpractice of democracy blended with a mendacious capitalism in a temporal demolition derby where the competitors all end up in their precious versions of their own personal hells.
That’s how we roll this fine weekend. We are barreling toward a showdown. Will they call for a moratorium? Will the developers mount a recall campaign? Will traffic grow so congested as to cork access to the jewel of the New World oneological promised land? It’s the hell bent big boys striking back against the perverted preservationists.
At the mouth of the Napa River is Mare Island in Vallejo. There is the perfect place. Vallejo could use the business and the Napa Valley can live without it. We build hotels on Mare Island. Build as many as the island can hold. We ferry visitors upriver to downtown Napa. From there they put the guzzling hordes onto the wine train, and from there they go north and then they are uncorked upon a pristine winegrowers paradise. There they find that there is little to no traffic, there are fuel cell powered electric shuttles that take guests from tasting room to tasting room. At the end of the day visitors enjoy a return voyage back to Mare Island where they drink more wine, take more aspirin, and make more love after drinking a bottle of wine they can’t possibly afford. Perfection….
Headline from The Guardian, Reuters in Portland, Oregon
I concocted a confrontation between an owl, a burro and an old man in 2012. Some background. I took out on the road with a circus in 1974. We traveled with a bear, fox, pheasant, monkey, dog and miniature horse.
I spent six months tending to the horse. A young stallion that I took from his mother had no choice but to hook into me; the world was too empty- too cold otherwise.
I spent one decade plus performing with an Belgian Shepherd and another decade plus with a Jack Russell Terrier. Sunshine and Lacey devoted their lives to the work we shared.
What I know about the animal kingdom has been derived from 10,000 performances and countless hours spent in a performing duo pair bond with two dogs and a miniature horse.
Garrett searched the ground. No hat. The owl screeched. Garrett startled. He looked from where the call had come from. The animal was in the tree. She had his best hat.
I was plenty sure when I built this scene that what I had imagined was within the realm of possibility. I not only have had two dogs in my act for the longest time I juggled fire while balancing a live chicken on my head.
Two decades plus with dogs and a near decade with a chicken and you get to know things about the animal kingdom that might slip by the casual observer. You know what an animal will do and what guides their understanding of the world they live in.
Bambalina (the burro) was disgusted. Her adversary was pathetic, spineless, not even a worthy opponent, and say what the world will about the animal kingdom, rare if ever does an animal fight simply for the sake of a fight.
The Guardian’s story about this pesky owl in Salem, Oregon is a literary affirmation. An interested reader now knows by proof of fact that the writer is with regard to the animals portrayed in his work an authority on the subject.
Bambalina and the owl traded a knowing look. They knew a man was no match in a real brawl.Garrett slunk back. The old man turned and trotted away. He was not her equal. He ran for his life.
Once I formed the outline to Hot Spring Honeymoon and began to write Bambalina’s character her voice flowed. She required few revisions. Her ‘burro personage’ from word one rang true.
How and why that is has everything to do with the animals I trained and have shared so many years of my life with. So, besides having concocted a sexual farce (another bit of nature I have some experience of) there is also the reward a reader will find in discovering the truths to be learned about the animal kingdom, a lifeforce man is so inextricably woven into.
This is the realm of the interdependent nature of mind. Where we see mankind in a dog, and a dog sees the canine in us. I’ll leave you with one last piece of burro truth.
His burro approached. She didn’t care about anything but Fletcher.He tugged on the crushed straw western hat, yanked it out of her teeth. “You know I’m going to have to give you a whipping for this?”
No he’s not. Bambalina had heard that sorry act so many times, but Fletcher McCrea was all bark no bite, and it is why she remained faithful to this man. The sarcasm and snide commentary was part of something bigger than both of them.