What Next?


        Most writers have moments when they suffer from writer’s block. It is very frustrating, but equally frustrating is having so many stories to tell you don’t know which one to write first. 

 

        That’s my dilemma. Sometimes I feel like writing all the ideas on separate cards and then tossing them into the air. Whichever card falls closest to me is the story I will have to write next. I have had my moments of thinking about quitting completely, but that is usually not from writer’s block. It’s from discouraging sales or from hurtful comments from an editor who just doesn’t “get” my writing. One editor’s comments about BLAZE OF GLORY were so biting that I decided her real problem was that she hated men. Really. She didn’t “get” Jake at all, while 99% of my readers love the man to death. I just ignored her inability to understand men and the affects of a tortured childhood. So be it. I paid no attention. 

 

        Nothing truly discourages me other than time to write everything I would like to write. And sometimes I wonder if I should try to write a different genre. However, I can’t get away from my love for American history and the Old West and Native Americans. So, as I explained not long ago, I think my next book will be IF I LOVED YOU, an Indian/white historical romance, something people tell me is their favorite storyline from me.

 

         Meantime, I am re-reading THIS TIME FOREVER to see if it would work for an Amazon reissue. It was published back in 1989 by Warner Books (Popular Library). Wow, that was a long time ago. The story is based loosely on the true tale of a woman who traveled west with the Mormons but was not herself a Mormon. She became a well-known singer and my husband and I visited her mansion years ago in Wyoming. My character’s name is Lilly Brannigan, from Scotland. The hero is Charles (Chase) Mitchell. Time and circumstances bring them together and then apart, and Lilly vows that if she ever finds Chase again, this time it will be forever. I would be interested to know how many of you remember the book.

        I feel blessed that so many of my back issues have been reissued more than once and with new covers. That has kept me on the virtual “shelves” for years, with many of my very first books still selling, including Savage Destiny. I expect most of them will keep selling long after I am gone, which will benefit my children and grandchildren. That warms my heart, and is a way of being with all of you for as long as you keep reading my books.

 

        SHADOW TRAIL is doing well, and I can’t help wanting to write more about Evie and Brian, since I have never gone deeply into their marriage other than everyone knows what happened to Evie and how Brian handled it. He is such a kind, understanding, patient man – such a contrast to Jake in so many ways. But he has always understood Evie’s adoration of her father, even though Jake is so drastically different from Brian. I love that “We are nothing alike, but I respect you” relationship between Jake and Brian. I have never explored Brian deeply, other than when he had a heart-to-heart with Jake when Jake thought Miranda might die from breast cancer. And, of course, they had another talk when Evie was kidnapped by outlaws who so brutally abused her. It just seems like so much had to happened in all the Outlaw Hearts books that I never got the chance to explore that Jake and Brian relationship.
 

        I guess I am rambling a bit. Just letting you, my very important readers, know what writers go through, especially ones like me who get deeply involved in their characters. I make mine so real that it is important to be sure they remain true to their character/personality through the years that are covered in my series books. It’s not always easy, but I get inside the head of every single character, even many of the cowhands. I would even like to write more about some of them.

 

        If I could live another 30 years I would probably write 30 more books. I am up to 76, so 24 more would make 100, but that will never happen. Still, it’s a nice idea and something to aim for if God allows me the health to do so.

 

Blessings.

 

Rosanne


 

WHAT IS “WORK"


        Most people (and readers) think that writing must be an easy job. Picture getting up whenever you want, staying in your PJ’s all day, leaning back and sipping hot coffee while you look at what you have just written and decide if it’s ok, and think about what your characters should do or say next … or maybe deciding to think about those things while you sit outside on the patio with your coffee … or thinking maybe you will take a leisurely nap and worry about it later. 
 

        The images are endless, and usually something to make you sigh as you work hard at your own job and daydream about the lovely, fulfilled life of a writer, let alone the money that must come in for such an “easy” job.

 

NOT!!

 

        You get up early in order to get household things done as well as yard work outside, or to get shopping done, or the other million-and-one things EVERYBODY needs to do daily. Most writers also have regular jobs to go to every day. They have families and all the social doings that go with kids in school, husbands who want their attention, meals to cook, sometimes diapers to change, or at the other end of the child spectrum, teenagers to deal with. They have family challenges, personal problems, health problems. They try to keep in touch with friends and close relatives, and most of the time, all these things are a real burden when trying to focus your brain on a fictitious story with fictitious characters who are as real to the author as their own family. It is a huge matter of focusing amid constant multi-tasking. 

       Writing is a mental, physical and emotional challenge, and you have to really love it to keep doing it while living your “real” life.

 

        Over the years of facing everything above as well as several major surgeries and personal family problems that rise above the norm, I have written 76 novels – all very long, very emotional, very detailed – all requiring hours and hours of research and planning – all full of real history. And most while living the busy life mentioned above. Many nights I stayed up writing until around 2 a.m. while everybody else slept, then was up at 5:30 a.m. to get everybody off to school and work (including my own full-time job) all over again. For years I slept between 3 and 5 hours a night. 

 

        I could go on for pages and pages about what it takes to write even one big book. I have written 76 of them. And once-through doesn’t do it. You write the story, go back and re-write it because of changes you know it needs, then go back and re-write it again because of editing, then edit it again and make all the corrections, then send it to an editor who sends it back full of errors and suggestions, so you do more re-writing and make more corrections. You read it again and catch more errors. (You would be surprised at what the brain “sees” that isn’t there or is incorrect.)

 

        A writer is so fixated on the story and the characters that all those little boo-boos just fly right by your attention. After several readings and several re-writes, the book must be converted for Amazon’s print and Kindle requirements, and you have to read it AGAIN in that form to make sure nothing was left out or mixed up, make sure the spacing is right, and – again – catch errors. Yes, even at that point you will find tiny errors. People have asked me if I read my books after they are published. Heavens no! I have already read it 5-6 times by then! Maybe more!

 

        And then there are the physical problems from sitting far too long. I am notorious for not getting up when I should. With my latest book, SHADOW TRAIL, I sat 12-18 hours for 3-4 days in a row trying to get the final version ready sooner than later because I promised my readers they would be able to get the book by a certain date. I sat so long that my left leg swelled beyond the capacity of the skin to hold all that water and fluid was oozing out through the pores of my lower leg. I learned my lesson on this one and decided I MUST GET UP AND WALK AROUND AND STRETCH, ETC., much more often when writing! No due date is worth your health.

         Personal family problems also intervened. Believe me, trying to write with heavy personal emotions and worries going on is no picnic.

 

        So … easy? No, writing is not easy. You had better be born to write and be very devoted to your stories and their characters. It had all better be very real for you, so real that you cry when the characters cry, and laugh when they laugh. They should be so real that you forget about all the rules of writing and all the “how-to’s” and you just write from the heart … and from the soul … not caring about all the advice and suggestions for “How” to write and what you can and cannot use or say.

 

        Lucrative? No. Most writers don’t make enough to live on, or they make an average income they would make at a regular job, making the writing simply very nice “extra” income. Those who make it big and become famous and have movies made from their books are few and far between.

 

        IT IS HARD WORK! So I hope when you read someone’s book, you don’t read it with an attitude of finding out what is wrong with it so you can criticize it on Amazon. I hope you read it with an appreciation for how hard that author worked to get that book out and available for you to read for your personal entertainment. I hope you enjoy the story for what it is, and because the author wants you to enjoy it. An author can’t get enough “thank-you’s.” Your suggestions are always welcome, but you should never be mean about it. Everyone’s opinions and the way they “see” life is different, which is only food for more stories. If we were all the same, there would be no need for writing stories about “people” at all.

 

        I worked very, very hard on SHADOW TRAIL – harder than I ever have worked on any other book, and probably because of personal emotional things that were going on and physical problems I had that have never happened before. I am, after all, getting old (hate to admit it!) and have been doing this for 45 years (published 40 years in May 2023). It has been a long, long road that would take another book to write about. 

 

        Suffice it to say, I LOVE TO WRITE. I LOVE MY CHARACTERS. They are extremely real to me, and sometimes I feel like I might meet them when I leave this world and go to the next. I believe some of them really existed. Jake Harkner, the main character in my Outlaw Hearts series, is a very complicated man due to an abusive childhood. I love the psychological makeup of this man, and I understand him right to his soul. I live with my characters. I talk with them. I love them and I visualize them as real people who really lived.

 

        I hope you enjoy SHADOW TRAIL, book #6 in my Outlaw Hearts family saga. After all that hard work and all the changes I ended up going through with the story, the book has finally been published – August 12, 2023, Amazon. And I am already working on my “next” story, titled IF I LOVED YOU.


Enjoy!!

 


 Order Shadow Trail on Amazon

WHEN DO YOU CALL IT A FINISHED BOOK?

  I heard a line in a movie once that made me nod my head. The main character was a writer, and he told someone, “I’m 300 pages into this book and I still don’t know what it’s about.”

That probably sounds strange to those who don’t write, but I identified with it immediately. When I am half-way or even three-quarters of the way into a book I am writing, I start getting paranoid over whether it’s really any good at all. I’m sure a lot of writers go through this. Sometimes I just ask myself, “What the hell are you doing? Is anybody really going to care about this story?”

Apparently SOMEONE cares, because my books keep selling. But the story (and its characters) is so close to me that I begin to wonder if all I am doing is living with the characters in daily life. Daily life does not consist of “plots” and “goal-motivation-conflict” in such fast movement. All those things happen to us gradually throughout our lives, and they keep changing, depending on our age and life’s circumstances. I am so close to the story that I don’t give any thought to the common rules of writing. Rather than a carefully-crafted beginning, middle and end, I just walk into the characters’ daily lives and continue their story. I never use a outline.

I am currently about three-quarters done with SHADOW TRAIL, which is scheduled for a June 30th release. Yikes! I have some fast writing to do! A lot of personal and emotional things have been going on for me since January or I would have finished the book by now. Along with all of that, I have felt very much like the quote above. I don’t “plot” my stories. I just move along in the lives of the characters. I create a problem for them, and then they have to solve it. Very little mystery and suspense, other than, with Jake Harkner in this series (this is book #6 for the Outlaw Hearts saga), the suspense is usually, “Will he live or die?”

I think I have a good story here. According to one of my beta readers, it’s the best one of the series. I hope she is right. “Life” has forced me to write this one hit-and-miss. I usually write fast and straight through, so having to stop for days, or even a week or two at a time, has made it difficult for me to stay coordinated with this story, which brought to mind the above quote. Of course, I do know what it’s about – Jake’s past has revisited him in a whole new and surprising way, forcing Jake to admit something to his wife that he’s kept a secret for 37 years. Now he has to take care of something that is a total surprise to him, and he will face a lot of danger in doing so.

I guess if I stay true to Jake’s character (and his wife’s and son’s), I can’t lose, because all of you wonderful, supportive readers love these characters. I am working hard to get this book done so you can enjoy the story by the end of June. I already have ideas for a book about Lloyd and Katie, and after that, a story about a grown-up “young Jake,” so I can promise more from this saga. I am just venting through this blog about how, sometimes, authors begin doubting their own story and wonder if it is developing in a way that will keep readers coming back for more.

Be prepared! Jake is coming back into your lives the end of June!

 


 


NOTES ON THE AMERICAN WEST

         Hello to all, and happy SPRING!! I have all my outdoor cleaning up finished in my garden and all around the rest of the house. Lots of hard work, but at my age, it’s best to keep busy. I already have 1” sprouts on all my rose bushes, and color is coming back into the stems of my hardwood shrubs. The grass is greening up beautifully after a really hard rain last week, so the mower is out and gassed up for that first mowing job, which I also do myself.

 

         Meantime, during some WINTER cleaning in my office, I came across notes I made years and years ago, in the 70’s and 80’s. I am going to share some of them with you in the next couple of blogs. The first one must be from around 1979. I didn’t date it, but I’m sure it is from our first trip to the American West, where I have always felt I belong. But I was born here in Michigan, all my family is here, and my German husband, who has farming in his blood and loves the Michigan woods, would not be happy living anywhere else.

 

        So, here I am – in Michigan, which certainly has its own beauty. Part of me belongs here because of my Potawatomi blood. However, all of you know how in love I am with the American West and how attached I feel to that part of the country, which is why I write about it. That first time I got to see it for myself, I felt as though I belonged there, came from there … that my spirit still lived there. I was either a pioneer woman, or lived there among a Native American tribe.

 

        I want to share with you what I wrote and how I felt about the Great West the first time I visited. I made these notes while traveling through Wyoming and the Rocky Mountains:

 

        “There is a peace here unlike any you can find anyplace else. It is not just quiet. It is total silence, except when the wind blows through the pines. The wind often picks up suddenly, surging violently down from higher peaks ahead of a storm, giving no warning, and diminishing in minutes.

 

        “We are in northern Wyoming, and it feels like home to me. I have been here in some other life, some other time frame. Perhaps my soul belongs to Sacajawea, or to Annie Oakley. Whoever has moved into this earthly body to live for whatever years God will grant me, she came from this place, just as surely as I live and breathe today. Some day I will live here again, if not in the flesh, then in spirit. My bones will be buried here, or my ashes scattered here, and I will at last be home again.

 

        “There is a life to this land I never could have imagined. What at first seems like desolation becomes something of beauty. What looks lifeless comes alive, and each time I come here in the future, I know why those who live here love it, as I, too, feel a love for it. I feel drawn to it. This is home, this Great West, all of it, from the arid deserts of Arizona to the snow-covered peaks of Colorado and Montana, from the green, rolling hills of eastern and middle Wyoming to Yellowstone.

 

        “There is truly nothing like our West in all the world, not one place that can match its beauty, its endless horizons, its thousands of miles of snowy peaks, its delicate ecology. It is wide and wild and beautiful. It is colorful and full of a unique history unmatched in its rapid growth, its untamed territories and once-rugged and hard-edged settlements. I can understand why those who came here first, for whatever reason, gold, free land, investments, exploration, or to get rich quick, ended up coming back again and again, or settled here permanently.

 

        “If I could, I would never go home. Never.”

 

 


 

 




 


THE TOUCH OF LOVE and My Mystic Indian Series

 

    Many of you have been asking to read my short story, THE TOUCH OF LOVE, from my Mystic Indian series. The story was previously only available by download from Mightywords.com (who have been out of business for years), but I am making it available again for free as a thank-you to my loyal readers. In action, it falls between MYSTIC VISIONS and MYSTIC WARRIORS (Books 2 & 3).

    THE TOUCH OF LOVE is a 46-page novella about Confederate Army doctor Robert Kingsley, the half-Lakota boy raised by Rising Eagle, schooled at the University of Michigan, and uncertain exactly where he actually belonged. Then, he saved the life of Rebecca Brady after she had been bitten by a rattlesnake, and the world changed for both of them. You can read this missing link to the Mystic Indian trilogy at: 

 http://www.rosannebittner.com/the-touch-of-love.pdf

    One of the questions I hear frequently is, where do you get the ideas for your story? The Mystic Indian stories came about because of an article I read in a flyer I received from the Wind River Indian Reservation many years ago. The article described a stone medicine wheel on the top of Medicine Mountain in the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming. What fascinated me was, no one is certain which Native Americans built this medicine wheel, or even when.

    At the top of a nearby mountain peak is a stone arrow pointing to the medicine wheel, which I found even more fascinating, because at the time someone created these places out of stones, there were no airplanes. There would be no way to see the arrow pointing to the medicine wheel except from above. Native Americans consider the medicine wheel sacred, believing only spirits from above would see it. There is a central cairn, with spokes coming out to join in a circle of stones so that the entire site looks just like a wagon wheel. 

    My husband and I took a trip to see the medicine wheel, and the first time we went there we had to drive up a very dangerous, one-lane (side of the mountain- no guard rail) road to get o the site. The second time we went to see it, the national park service had made a better road, but it goes only part way up and then you have to walk the rest of the way. The wheel itself is now fenced off because of (I call them jerks) people stealing stones from the site. When you go there, you get a chilling feeling of spirituality, as though you have just walked into an ancient mysterious past. And the view on top of Medicine Mountain is SPECTACULAR!!

    The moment I read about this stone medicine wheel, I knew I wanted to write a book that would be based around this sacred site. That book is MYSTIC DREAMERS, and on the original hard cover book jacket there is a picture of the actual stone medicine wheel. After that first book I knew I needed to continue the story of Stalking Wolf and Buffalo Dreamer, so I wrote book #2 MYSTIC VISIONS and then #3 MYSTIC WARRIORS, which follows the Sioux nation into the Custer battle. All three books are filled with real Native American history, customs and beliefs, and a good share of mystic spirituality, the third book ending with a very spiritual and mysterious event that (I hope) leaves readers wondering if this really could happen. I personally believe it could.

    Book 1, MYSTIC DREAMERS: In 1833, Star Dancer, a Sichangu (BrulĂ© Sioux), is promised in marriage to Stalking Wolf, an Oglala warrior whom she has never met. What begins as a loveless union develops into a moving story of a man and a woman led by powers beyond their control. Dreams, visions, and mystic experiences fill this provocative love story that launches a saga about the Lakota and their first meeting with the White Man.

    Book 2: MYSTIC VISIONS follows Buffalo Dreamer, Rising Eagle, and their children through the great Indian wars and the settling of the West, where, in addition to the risks and rewards of daily life, they and their Lakota tribe must face the influx of white settlers and soldiers into their lands and into their lives. In Mustic Visions, we experience Buffalo Dreamer's increasingly powerful visions of the bluecoats and a coming war. We learn the fate of Little Big Boy and Never Sleeps, and of Never Sleeps's mother, Fall Leaf Woman. And we meet the one who is destined to lead the Lakota People in their greatest trial ever, Crazy Horse!

    Book 3: MYSTIC WARRIORS: The white buffalo is a sacred and holy creature to the Lakota. Buffalo Dreamer, a holy woman, and her husband, Rising Eagle, have not only been blessed to see the white buffalo, they have eaten of its heart and have been told by the sacred beast that as long as the Lakota have the white buffalo hide, all will be well.

    But all is not well. White hunters have stolen the sacred white robe and great misfortune has befallen the Lakota. Settlers continue to invade Lakota territory, backed by vicious cavalry forces that massacre women and children. The Lakota are starving and their anger is growing.

    Led by Rising Eagle, a great force of Lakota and other tribes wage war upon the white man. Together they battle to regain the land stolen from them, to protect the precious buffalo the white man wantonly destroys, and to search for the sacred white robe.

    You can read more about this series, including links for ordering in both print and ebook formats, on the Mystic Indian Series page of my website: http://www.rosannebittner.com/mystic.html




Memorial to Maria

 

My Dedication at the Memorial for my daughter-in-law, Maria Bittner, who died an untimely death on January 31, 2022, at the age of 54. She had a huge funeral with a packed sanctuary and a lovely talk by my son about how much he loved her. The following is my personal memorial to Maria that the minister read at the funeral. Rest in Peace, Maria. I will miss you forever. Rosanne



Throughout our lifetimes we all end up attending funerals. The cycle of life makes it impossible not to. But most of us expect the funeral to be for an old person, whether our own relative or someone else’s.

Expected. We manage our way through those expected ones. Much as we love and will miss that person, we are relatively prepared for his or her death.

Then comes the unexpected, and it hits like a blow from a baseball bat. There is always the “why?” of it. Here I am 78 years old and Maria was only 54. Why her? I was blessed to live through my own sons turning into men, my grandsons turning into men, and now I have been ultra-blessed to be here for my great-grandson. I might get to see him grow into a young man, too, but that is up to God. The fact remains that Maria won’t get to see her grandson or her step-grandchildren become adults. She won’t get to enjoy their children. 

   I have decided on the “why?” of it. She was one of the most loving women I have known, and perhaps my son and my grandsons will remember her patience and her unselfish caring for them and their little ones. Perhaps her memory will help them be good fathers and grandfathers, and will help the women who knew her be better mothers and grandmothers. Perhaps Maria was sent into my son and grandsons’ lives simply to help them through the tough years of learning to live in a blended family and to leave a glow in their lives … the glow of warmth and love that will always be with them, not in the flesh, but in the spirit.

  If we believe that Jesus Christ is always among us, and that angels are always among us, then we have to believe that the spirits of certain special people are also among us. After all, death is only in the flesh. I can name a few of my own loved ones who have passed on who I am sure are always with me. Some people just plain can’t help leaving a “forever” memory that doesn’t fade with time. Maria is one of those. We were as different as the sun and the moon. Other than when I would go to a gathering of friends at her and Brock’s home, we never did anything together socially because I was the extrovert and Maria was the stay-at-home introvert. I could give you a long list of our personality differences, but that doesn’t matter. I just loved that woman, and she loved me. Although she was step-mom to my grandsons rather than mom, she loved them just like her own. She had total love, honor and respect for her husband’s family, and there was nothing fake about it. You could sense it, feel it. You knew it was real.

 Brock told me Maria often said she didn’t really want to live long enough to have to go to our funerals. What a thing to say. And she did tell me once that she did not believe she would live to be an old woman. I don’t know why she felt that way, but she seemed to sense that was exactly how it would be. The morning of the day she died I took her some things she needed and felt bad that she wouldn’t be able to go to the belated family Christmas that was to take place later. As bad as she felt, she made me take the gifts she had for the baby, and for my husband before I left. She was thinking about them. I figured Brock would take her to the hospital and she would get better and next year we would have a normal Christmas.


       But when I walked out the door, something struck me, and I will never forget it. A little voice told me I might not see her again. I feel so guilty for leaving, but don’t we all think it’s not possible that a healthy 54-year-old woman would die just a few hours later? I told myself that, and I left, glad that Brock was going to take her to the hospital. We would all celebrate and eat the ham I had in the oven and then Brock would take some home for Maria.

       We can all look back and think, “I should have done this, or that.” But God will have His way, and no matter what our decisions, His will always rules. So I tell myself not to feel guilty, because Maria Bittner died exactly like she wanted to die, a happy, happy woman who loved much and lived a giving, unselfish life, and without a jealous bone in her body. She loved sunsets, and once told Brock that enjoying a campfire and watching the sunset with him was like heaven.

She is there now, and she died before she had to bear the death of other loved ones. Some of us have the strength for that, and some of us don’t. Maria would rather watch over us from a better place, where she is perfectly happy to wait for us to come to her. I will be so glad to see her again, and until then, I will miss her as much as any other special loved one who has gone before me. She was not my daughter-in-law. She was my daughter.

 


 

THE REALITY OF WRITING REALITY

        Strange title, I know, but as a writer, we sometimes get the reality of our stories mixed up with the reality of life. One of the most common comments I get from readers is, “Your story was so real.” “Your characters are so real. Did they really exist?” “I could feel your characters’ pain.” “I laughed and I cried right along with your characters.”

        That’s all good to hear, because it means I am doing something right. Even I get so wrapped up in my characters that I laugh and cry with them. Writing about how much they love each other, and how devastating it would be for a certain character to lose the one he or she loves, brings out my own genuine tears. There I sit, bawling over someone who never actually existed, but in my mind, they are so real. I even cry when I know this is the last book I will write about a certain character.

        Recently, the reality of the pain of loss through death hit hard when my own daughter-in-law suddenly died … out of a clear, blue sky. I had seen and talked to her that morning, and by 3:00 pm, she was gone. 54 years old. No sickness. No warning. No reason to worry about something that dramatic. She simply bled to death without realizing it. She was going through menopause, and every 3 months or so she would have very heavy bleeding. This one was worse than usual, and she became very short of breath. My son was helping get her ready to go to the hospital when she died in his arms. Loss of blood had put too much strain on her heart and organs.

        Maria was a wonderful mother, wife, daughter and grandmother – a beautiful spirit. She loved her grandbabies so much. One was her own, and two were step-grandbabies, but you would never know any difference. I am so sad that my great-grandson, Bannon, is still so young that he won’t remember her.

        I was deliberating having a certain person die in my latest work in progress (no worries, dear readers – it’s not who you think). Now, if I write it, it will be far more real for me than I thought. I’m not sure I can write it at all now. I might have to change my story.

        My point is, when I write such reality, it takes a toll on me emotionally. I cry over every character who dies, even the minor ones (except the “bad guys,” of course). I also cry over leaving certain characters behind and moving on. Sometimes characters come into my stories who become so important that they start to take over the story. I have to write them out of the story or play them down more because I don’t want to take away from the major characters. I “save” such characters for their own stories.

        When you write emotions, I think it helps to have been through a lot yourself. That’s where the reality comes from. I’ve been through a lot of loss, an older sister who I wish so much I had been closer to, a super father, a mother I never quite understood, a grandmother who was my whole world, an aunt who was simply a loving, memorable person who treated me like her own, a son on drugs who has destroyed his life and is just now realizing it, all the goods and bads of marriage, all those stages of life that teach you lessons – all the stupid decisions one makes in life, and all the good ones. I know the love of being a friend, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, now a great-grandmother. Memories are wonderful, but they can also hurt when you realize all the things you should have done differently and now will never get the chance. I should have spent more time with Maria. We were as different as night and day as far as personalities, but we always got along because she was so giving and unselfish. She took care of me after my hip surgery, and she had a bookshelf right by her front door that had every one of my books in it. She kept it on display. No other relative has done that.

             The reality I try to bring out in my stories has become too real. I can understand my son’s sorrow, and when I write similar reality, I will understand the sorrow of that kind of death.

        I don’t mean to make this a morbid blog. I just want to use it to celebrate life and remind my readers and other writers how precious that life is. I can’t get over thinking how it should have been me. I am 78 and I have had my turn at being a grandmother and even now a great-grandmother. But we can’t argue the choices God makes. Maria is in a much better place now, and she is definitely with all of us in spirit. Sounds strange, but I often feel the characters in my books really lived and are also with me. But then we writers are strange characters ourselves.

IN THE MOOD

        All writers have days when the ideas just won’t come, or they are flat-out not in the mood to write. Or some days we are just stuck at a spot in our story where we can’t figure out where to go from there. I call it “writing myself into a corner.” What seems to be a great idea flows out of us and into an exciting story, but sometimes we fail to consider how that particular event or decision will affect the rest of the book.

        No matter what the problem, I often find that listening to my “mood music” often pulls me out of whatever has slowed my writing. When I listen to music like the theme songs from Lonesome Dove or Open Range, I can so easily “see” the magnificent western landscape, and seeing it and feeling it through music instantly brings up new ideas and the desire to write something grand and memorable. It helps me describe that beautiful mountain view or the wide-open grasslands with endless horizons. That, in turn, creates new ideas, an inspiration to write a story that fits the bold panorama of the American West.

        Listening to the theme song from The Big Country brings up visions of Jake and Lloyd Harkner herding cattle over yellow grass and the vast slopes of J&L land, with the Rockies in the background. I can stand on a high ridge and look down at the sparkling water of a stream below. I can scan the horizon for miles, looking for stray cattle or rustlers. Such big country helps me envision the big men it took to tame it, and the strength the women of such a land needed to survive it. Then, of course, there is Native American music, which I use to help me envision warriors and villages and herds of buffalo. I can “see” a band of painted natives in full regalia and riding painted horses across the expansive spaces of the high plains.

        I don’t know what I would do without my mood music. I used it a lot in Dancing Beneath You, because the hero, Ben, is trained in professional singing and dancing, and he founded a youth group that he molded into a song and dance group much like Glee. I can see Ben or the youth group singing every song I list in my book, and it makes me eager to tell more of their story, which I will do in the sequel, Walking Beside You.

        Another story I want to write is called. If I Loved You. It is based on the song of the same title from the musical, Carousel. Most of my mood music is theme songs from great westerns, as well as songs by Josh Groban and David Phelps. The list is long. I have over 600 songs in my phone. I get them through Apple Music. They are constantly playing when I drive, and I keep earphones in my office and at my bedside so I can listen whenever I am in the mood. When I listen to If I Loved You, sung by Josh Groban and Audra McDonald, I see a young pioneer girl who has fallen in love with a young Cheyenne warrior. Her father finds out and forces them apart, and during the song I see her wagon pulling away with the wagon train, the young girl sitting on the wagon gate crying and watching her Cheyenne lover ride away with a band of other young men. They disappear over a rise, both thinking they will probably never see each other again. I cry every time I picture that when I am listening to that song.

        Whenever you are feeling low, or are sick of boring TV shows, and even sicker over today’s news, try listening to songs you love. They can be up-beat songs that make you want to get up and dance, or simply soft music that relaxes you, or songs that bring up visions of things you love most. I know music has been a big part of my writing and always will be.

        Listen and imagine. They are the two major keys to writing.

 


 

THEY CAN’T STEAL OUR MEMORIES

        I was making Rice Krispie treats a couple of days ago, and I thought what a pleasant, comforting time I had doing so. You melt butter and puffy marshmallows, throw in the Rice Krispies and gradually roll them into the white sugary cloud of melted marshmallows and then smooth it into a pan and slice it up and eat it. Kids love it. Adults love it. And it is so simple to make.

        That whole incident reminded me that in spite of all the madness going on out there in the world today and all the stressful and often depressing news that bombards our TV sets, radios and newspapers, we need to remind ourselves of the things that comfort us and make us happy – things like baking pies and playing with our pets and/or with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

        I love to watch old movies, especially the black and white ones. They remind us of the old America, of manners and classy clothing, the wild enthusiasm for baseball and how people dressed up to go to those games. In old movies we often see what our big cities used to look like during a time when law and order prevailed, when boys stood on street corners hawking newspapers and milk wagons and street cars dominated the streets. I love the old MGM Grand musicals, where huge stages were used to perform incredibly beautifully choreographed dance routines with fifty dancers or more moving to perfectly-coordinated routines, all done against magnificent backdrops and with the dancers wearing glamorous feathers and glitter.

       I like to look at old pictures of my grandmother, aunts and uncles, parents and siblings and remember big potluck picnics and get-togethers where everyone brought their favorite dish. There is nothing better than gathering at a big Sicilian reunion or a wedding where there is home-made pasta dishes and sesame cookies. I also remember going to an aunt’s house where food was the number one recreation. I had an aunt on the non-Italian side of the family who should have owned her own restaurant, where she could serve her fabulous southern pecan pie and the best home-made vegetable soup in the state.

        My husband and I go for a lot of rides down back country roads, where things are quiet and people still live away from all the turmoil of interstate highways and big cities. We see tractors and huge discs and blueberry pickers and cherry shakers. We see corn fields and blueberries, asparagus fields, peach orchards, cherry and apple orchards, fields of squash and pumpkins. We come across fruit stands where we can buy super fresh fruits and vegetables. I feel blessed to live in the country, and all of America is beautiful. We have traveled everywhere in this country, and you can’t beat the magnificent majesty of the Rocky Mountains and the Sierras, Yellowstone Park and Grand Canyon, or the Black Hills of South Dakota.  

       I have an old Betty Crocker cookbook – probably 50 years old. And I have an old Bible that has rose petals pressed between the pages. They still smell wonderful. And there is nothing so comforting as smells … the smell of an old, old book, the smell of pine at Christmas, of cookies baking in the oven, or of home-made popcorn or home-made bread. I remember the smell of my grandmother’s perfume. I don’t know what it was, but it had a bit of a spicy scent, mixed with some kind of flower I can’t pinpoint. Every once in a while I pick up that scent, and immediately, I feel Grandma with me.

        I enjoy listening to music from the 40’s, so many war songs about pride and patriotism. And back then, songs were so much more romantic, plus you could actually understand the lyrics. I take comfort in old Christmas carols and in paintings of farm Christmases by Grandma Moses. How many kids today have even heard of Grandma Moses?

         I love big-band music and remember a ballroom that once existed here in my hometown, where famous bands like Lawrence Welk and Glen Miller visited. Their music could be heard in the air at night, and people came from miles around, some from a couple of hundred miles, just to be there and dance to the music, women wearing beautiful dresses and men in suits. You don’t see that anymore. Nor do you hear really good, easy-singing artists like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

        Remember the night time talk shows, like Johnny Carson? I never watch today’s late-night entertainment. It is no longer entertainment at all. I used to laugh at every joke and every prank, and I enjoyed the guests because they talked about fun things instead of ranting about politics. Are there any programs left that don’t talk about politics? It is all over the news, the sitcoms, the talk shows, the newspapers and magazines, and I am sick of listening. I prefer doing other things, things that make me happy and contented. I watch very little TV, unless it is old movies and old sitcoms in which the family unit and morals and manners prevailed.

        I wonder if there are any young people who know what high fidelity is – or know what an iron is – a percolator – a can opener – a meat grinder – an eggbeater, a rumble seat, driving with a clutch, or when car starters were a button on the floor. How many know how to cook a big meal? Do you remember drinking out of a hose? Playing on rope swings? Do you remember having chores and having to earn your toys and goodies? Nothing has ever been “given” to me. I had to earn everything I had, including my school clothes and my class ring and class trip. I worked summers since I was fourteen years old.

        There is a Bon Jovi song that talks about wanting to “go back” – to “when we were beautiful, before the world got small, before we knew it all. Back, to when we were innocent. I wonder where it went. Let’s go back and find it.”

        I often want to go back to those days myself. Innocence can actually be a good thing, something joyful. That’s why children find so much joy in every new thing they learn, every new friend, every new object, every new game. The world is a wonder to them, and I sometimes wish it could be that way for all of us. The sad part is that now schools and modern-day teaching steals a child’s innocence long before he or she should lose it, teaching them things that only parents should have the right to teach them, the right to decide when and how they will do so.

         We need to preserve the past and our history as best we can, and the best way to do that is to talk to our children and grandchildren about what things used to be like. Hand down our heritage and our history the way the Native Americans do. In spite of how hard the government and others tried to take away their language, their religion, their cultural beliefs, Native Americans hung on to all that was vitally important to their heritage. Many have preserved their language and teachings and now teach it to their youth. That is all due to the Old Ones handing down their stories and wisdom. 
 

        We should do the same. We should write down the things we remember so they are never lost. They can take the history out of our movies and textbooks and teachings, but they can’t steal our memories. Preserve those memories, and hand them down to your descendants. And teach them what a wonderful, free country we live in and that it is our job, and theirs, to make sure we never lose real America.