Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Nature of Writing with Saint


I've mentioned that I'm finally going to meet my co-author, Eugene Saint – the friend who, two years ago, gave me those Tennessean pups we affectionately call the “Pease Wees”.  Saint and I have an almost-completed full-length Tag novel that needs to be finished, edited, designed, etc. and we realized we could do it much easier and faster in person rather than online via emails or over the phone.  The internet takes too long and on the phone…well, that comes with its own complications.  See, Saint prefers to rattle my cage rather than concentrate on the task at hand.  I don’t believe he’s really ADD but he most certainly is “focus-challenged”.

Friends have asked me what it’s like to work with Saint.  That stranger.  That older person.  That guy ‘from away’.  

That MAN.

Frankly, it’s hell.

Perhaps you’ll understand what I mean.  Here are some typical exchanges between Saint and me.

** What Saint says:  “I was reading your stuff…when all of a sudden I slammed into the car dashboard/computer monitor/my desk.  Practically broke my neck!”

What Saint means:  “You use too many commas.”

** What Saint says: “Hidey Hole?  Hidey Hole?  What in God’s name is a Hidey Hole?  Are you gay, or what?”

What Saint means: “I don’t care for the term ‘Hidey Hole’.  Perhaps you can come up with something different, my dear?”

** What Saint says: “Whine, whine, whine…good stuff, good stuff, whine…”

What Saint means: “Your posts are all about feelings.  Too ‘girlie’.  Luckily, I write stuff people want to read.”

** What I say: “Well, Saint…I’ll let you go so I can grab some supper.”

What Saint says:  “That’s right.  Go fatten up.”

** What I say:  “I wondered if maybe you’d consider reducing the number of times that you indiscriminately use the ‘F-bomb’ in your posts.  I really don’t think it adds anything to the story.”

What Saint says: “(F-bomb), no!”

** What Saint says:  “So I was thinking… maybe I’ll do something enjoyable this afternoon.  Or, maybe I’ll read what you wrote last night.”

What Saint means: “I wonder if I can make her cry…”

What I think:  “When hell freezes over, old man.”

** What Saint says:  “That’s cool.”

What I say: “You’re kidding!  Are you kidding me?  You actually LIKE it?”

What Saint says: “Well, not now that you’ve pointed out how dumb it is…”

** What I say: “So… what happens if you don’t like me once you’ve met me in person?”

What Saint says:  “Who says I like you now?”

What Saint means: “I can’t wait to meet Kaz!”

** What I say: “So…will you still want to write with me if you don’t like the ‘real’ me?”

What Saint says: “Who says I want to write with you now?”

What Saint means: “I can’t believe how lucky I am to co-author a book with Kaz!”

** What I say: “Saint, you drive me NUTS!”

What Saint says: “Awww…bless your poor misshapen head.”

What Saint thinks: “This is too easy.”

What I think: “Man, is this old duffer in for a rude awakening!  Bring it on!”

No, Saint and I don’t have a tranquil partnership, and he's not the type of friend whom I'd consider to be a ‘soft place to fall’.  In fact, he says I won’t like him.  That he’s a miserable SOB.  

Heaven knows Saint likes to be right, so I won’t argue with his assumption or his self-assessment.  Too, there's that little 'side-benefit'.  If I don't argue with the old drives HIM nuts.  I've gotta keep him on his toes, or most likely his aging brain will atrophy and I'll be stuck pulling his dead weight.  So, just this once, I'll let him have the last word.

** What I mean: "I can't wait to meet Saint."

Tennessee With Saint

 Well, it looks like it might actually – finally! – happen.  In October, if all goes as planned, I’ll hop aboard a Delta jetliner and fly to Tennessee, where I will finally meet “Bee Dazzle’s” co-author – that bossy, know-it-all curmudgeon, Eugene Saint.

The reason for the anticipated trip is two-fold.  Saint and I have also co-authored a full-length Tag novel, titled ‘Following Seas’.  

The novel is almost complete.  Almost.  The old man has been holding up the works but I try not to crab about it.  At his age I suppose I should be grateful that he can still muster up the strength to toddle from recliner to computer desk. 

We wrote the original manuscript three years ago with several other authors who were participating in an online game of Writers’ Tag.  The site folded but Saint and I stayed in contact.  Our posts had proven we had some synergy.   Since each author on the site retained ownership of his or her own contributions, Saint and I deleted the posts written by the others and then read what remained.  To our delight, what remained had the makings of a terrific novel.

We decided to rework the plot to make it truly ‘ours’.  At night – after our families had gone to bed – Saint and I wrote.  Sometimes we’d talk on the phone when Saint needed to complain about something such as my overuse of commas, ellipses…or italics.  He’d gripe and I’d defend.  He’d grumble some more and I’d concede.  He’d crow in victory…and I’d get irritated.  It’s part and parcel of the experience of writing with Saint.   

Eventually the manuscript began to resemble a completed novel.  My nerves, in the meanwhile, began to resemble a frayed rope.  One thing about Saint?  The man is never wrong.  Ever.   It’s useless to offer even the mildest criticism of anything he’s written because before the end of the conversation I’ve somehow turned into that lowest-of-the-low: a “girl”. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Saint’s not ‘macho’ nor is he a misogynist – but he IS a survivor.  When backed into a corner he comes out swinging.  And if he lacks an original or worthy argument, he falls back on his old stand-by: the argument that I “don’t get it” because I’m a “girl”.   I have to admire his use of that accusation because – to his way of thinking – there’s little to be said against that argument.  And because he knows I get cranked when he says that, he uses it every chance he gets.   If it wasn’t for the fact that I have great respect for senior citizens in their dotage, he and I would have engaged in more than the occasional tussle.

But now we’re almost finished with this undertaking.  If we can polish Following Seas to a point where we’re ready to sit down together and give it a word-by-word edit, I’ll fly down to Tennessee and we’ll do exactly that:  Finish the book, design and create a cover and synopsis, write the dedications and acknowledgements…and be done with the project.  That’s the main purpose for the trip.

The other reason I hope to go to Tennessee is quite simple.  I’m curious.  Incredibly so!  I’ve written parts and pieces of several novels with this man who is – in essence – a stranger.  I want to see and know the ‘real’ Saint.  The guy who is a husband and the father of eight, a musician, artist, veteran, teacher, sailor, writer… and more – or so he claims!  I want to find out if he’s really an irascible old goat… or just a grumpy old fart.  I want to know if he’s as smart as he sounds… or if he’s just good at sounding smart. 

I mean, think about it!  The only details I know about this author are those he’s allowed me to know.  A few photos and a voice on the other end of the phone line are the extent of my knowledge.  In reality, he might not be an irascible old goat!  He might be a young woman with a deep voice (a smoker perhaps?) who has been sending me photos of her grandfather.  He could be a vagrant.  A politician.  An oral hygienist.  The possibilities are endless.  Heck, he might even be a Republican! 

The fact of the matter is that I want to know. As a woman who always picks up strays on the side of the road, it was natural that Saint would become one of my closest friends.  I want to see him with my own eyes.   
I suppose it’s only fair that Saint sees the real ‘me’ too. I just hope he’ll be able to come up with a suitable defense strategy when he finds out I’m not a ‘girl’.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dark Heart -- Exciting Enough to Make Even Me Turn Red

Nine months ago I received Tony Park’s Dark Heart as a Christmas gift from two of my Australian friends, Grahame and KK.

Since reading my first Park novel in 2009, I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of his tales of adventure set in the heart of Africa.  Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana…the author has traveled extensively in these countries, as well as much further afield.  In fact, Park spends half of each year on the Dark Continent, researching his novels and learning first-hand about the culture, traditions, geography and the wildlife of each region he travels to or writes about.
Author Tony Park with his mother Kathy 
The first rule a successful author learns is “Write what you know.” It’s obvious that Tony Park knows his stuff.  It’s not often that I read stories which make me feel a part of the setting but Park’s novels do exactly that.  I’ve rarely journeyed further than Maine’s borders but when engrossed in a tale by Tony Park, I feel as if I’m right there – on the veld, in the bush, in the jungle…or in a small African village, the city of Joberg or Kruger National Park.  

Dark Heart is well-named, for it is a dark tale.  There are few light or bright moments but then, there’s little to smile about when you find out you’ve been targeted for assassination. 

The story revolves around three characters who are bound by the events of their past.  In Rwanda during that country’s horrific civil war and subsequent genocide, Dr. Richard Dunlop, attorney Carmel Chang and photojournalist Liesl Nel are unknowingly caught up in one of that country’s biggest mysteries: Who was responsible for the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s aircraft?  That single act of terror was long thought to be the spark that ignited one of the world’s most vicious attempts to exterminate a populace.  Seventeen years later, a clue emerges which could very well solve the mystery… if the trio can stay alive long enough to follow the evidence to the guilty party.

The three work at cross-purposes, however.  After witnessing the horror of the battlefield in 1994, Richard and Liesl had succumbed to a night of ‘survivor sex’.  What was meaningless to them was a life-changing event for Carmel, who – as the woman in love with Richard – was devastated upon discovering the two together.

After Rwanda the three went their separate ways, battling personal demons and stockpiling guilt and blame for almost two decades.  When thrown together after surviving almost simultaneous murder attempts, cooperation is the last thing on their minds.  But without it, the odds of them surviving are practically non-existent.

Dark Heart is spellbinding.  It might sound hypocritical to say that, since I began reading the book almost nine months ago and have just finished it today…but that is the nature of the beast that is my life, right now.  I have only read ONE novel in the past year and this is it.  I took this unscheduled ‘day off’ and treated myself to a few hours of pleasure…sitting outside under blue skies with a gentle autumn breeze tickling the hair at my neck…and I read.  I was so engrossed in Park’s latest tale that I didn’t even notice as my Irish skin got only its second sunburn of the season –the first having made itself painfully apparent after a weekend at the wood splitter in August.

Dark Heart is well worth the read, as are all Park’s novels – from Far Horizon right up through to African Dawn.  Not only are the stories entertaining, they are educational and deliciously descriptive.  Take the time to immerse yourself in another world – an exciting one – and share my guilty pleasure.

Just…don’t forget your sun-block when you do. I recommend SPF15, at a minimum….

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Letters From Ed

The last letter I received from my friend, Ed Squibb
            A great man has left us.  Last week Edward R. Squibb III peacefully departed his home and moved on, leaving friends and family behind as he started a new journey certain to be chock-full of fresh adventures. 

            The ‘Ed’ I knew was a character.  A breath of fresh air.  A man who walked into a room and took center stage without ever acting a part.  Every single encounter I ever had with Ed Squibb left me smiling.  Sometimes even laughing out loud.  I’ve rarely encountered a wit as sharp or an intellect so stimulating.

            I met Mr. Squibb years ago when he stopped by my parents’ real estate office to shoot the breeze…or whatever it was he and my folks liked to shoot.  I was intrigued by this man who was dressed in shorts in what was – for all intents and purposes – the dead of winter.  Naturally, I had to mention his attire and ask what it was all about.  I wouldn’t have been ‘me’ if I’d sat there quietly listening to the conversation when there was a burning question just waiting for a reasonable answer. 

            “You never know when a game of tennis will present itself!” the gentleman said by way of explanation.

            I fell back on my first line of defense.

            “But it’s winter.  You can’t play tennis in the snow!”

            He jumped up, orchestrated a perfect ‘serve’ and as the imaginary racket swung through the move, he brought his other hand down (the one that had just tossed up the imaginary tennis ball) and pointed it straight at me.

            “Here’s a novel idea.  Indoor courts!”

            I laughed in chagrin.  Oh, yeah… indoor courts.

            Over the course of our friendship I had the pleasure of watching Ed play tennis a time or two – usually against opponents almost half his age.  He played to win and rarely lost, and yet – he was always gracious.  A true sportsman, was Mr. Squibb. 

            I also had the honor of representing Ed in several business transactions.  He was a stickler for detail and he knew his ‘stuff’ but he always granted me the respect of asking for my opinion.  To my delight, he even took my advice a time or two.

            There are a handful of people who have been instrumental in supporting my writing career and Ed is up near the top of that list.  Shortly after I began writing “Observations from The F.A.R.M.” Ed paid me a special visit – one that was longer than his usual mercurial pop-ins.  He sauntered through the doorway and plopped down in a chair, slapping an Irregular down on the desktop in front of me.

            “Thank you.”

            That was it.  Just ‘thank you’.  I had an inkling that he was being complimentary.  However, I didn’t dare make an assumption – lest I make the proverbial ass out of my umption.

            “‘Thank you’…for what?”

            “THAT.” he said, “That is exactly what people need.  YOU are exactly what we need.  Don’t stop.”  Ed jumped up.  The man was rarely still and never stayed seated for more than a couple of minutes before getting up and moving around the room.   I was immensely flattered by his words and wanted to hear more.

            “It is?  I am?”

            “Yes.”  He wound up and threw a perfect pitch and a fantasy ball flew across the lobby and into the map room – where it no doubt struck out the batter at plate.  Then Ed reseated himself and grabbed the newspaper, opening it to my column.  “But this thing is a mess.  I took the liberty of marking it up for you.  Your content is great but your format is horrendous.”

            As I write this I’m laughing once again, picturing that scene from years ago.  There I was – all primed for a round of accolades – and my friend was commencing to tear my writing to shreds!  I never had to worry about getting a swelled head with Ed.  That man was a drink of cool water on a hot day and HE was exactly what this fledgling writer needed.  Ed was what – no…Ed was WHO – a lot of people needed.  He wasn’t stingy with himself.  As he made the daily rounds in his neighborhood and through the town, he brought sunshine and a unique rapport into each personal interaction.  Sometimes I was just a spectator and I’d watch him as he chatted to folks in the post office or the store.  When that man left the premises, those who remained were on an “Ed High”…giddy, chuckling…they went back to their routines with uplifted spirits.  He had a rare gift.  Of that, I have no doubt.

            As I think back on my friendship with Ed, certain images and scenes come to mind.  The day he offered me a tour of his home after discovering that I’d left some maps I promised to lend him between the doors of his next-door-neighbor’s house instead of his.  (He well knew any maps were worthless in my hands!) 

            The morning when, out of the blue, he handed me a check to donate to a community effort he knew I was supporting. 

            The afternoon he invited me to lunch and made me a delicious sandwich after I delivered some papers which needed his signature.  

            The day we realized – to our amazement – that Ed served on a ship in the Navy sixty years earlier under one of our close family friends.   (We were able to reconnect the eighty-something Ed with the ninety-something Lawrence and the two men became devoted pen-pals.  Ed generously shared the content of each letter with us and to our delight we had a deck-side seat to the re-blossoming of a friendship between the two WWII veterans.)

             I remember the morning I gave him a squeeze after his beloved Amy passed away – and the day I hugged him when he smilingly – almost shyly – told me about finding Ann.  In all the years I knew him those two occasions are the only times I ever touched Mr. Squibb – but he touched me in intangible ways very time we met.

            Yes, Ed was my cheerleader.  He gave me compliments – nothing over-the-top and always thoughtfully tempered by constructive criticism.  And he did something few people do these days: he wrote to me.  He wrote honest-to-goodness ‘fan’ letters about my little newspaper column and my novel ‘Grumble Bluff’.  He wrote thank you notes for silly things, making my simplest gestures seem like matters of great import.  He wrote suggestions in the margins of my newspaper columns. 

            He even ‘wrote’ me my very own, honest-to-goodness ‘cheer’.   Always eager to engage in discussions of diction, vocabulary, syntax and style, Ed took a liking to the pentameter of all my ‘names’ put together.  Once he learned them, he said “You sound like a cheer!” and from that point forward – every time I ran into him – he would do exactly that. 

            Ed would cheer.

            As he would throw his arms up to the left, then to the right, then double-time left-right-left, he’d chant “KAren!  LouISE!  BESsey-ATwood-PEASE! Hooray!” And damn if he didn’t make me laugh every time. 
Ed read The Irregular every week (and the NYT every day.)

            I’m truly going to miss that man.  Sometimes months passed between conversations or letters but I knew he was around.  That gave me a sort of comfort.  I’d pass him as he pedaled his bike to Anni’s Market to get his morning newspaper…and I’d smile.  I’d see him jauntily skip down the post office steps dressed in his khaki shorts…and I’d smile.  Even now, through my tears, I’m smiling. 

            There are people who pass through our lives who seem to sprinkle stardust as they go along.  That was Ed Squibb.  Those of us who were the beneficiaries of his optimism, his wit and humor and his generous spirit have been forever enriched.  Ed has moved on but he left us all with vibrant intangibles…memories filled with laughter and warmth.

            Those will surely sustain us until we meet again, and I look forward to that reunion.

            Thank you, my friend, for sharing your stardust with me.     
And thank you, Ed, for your letters...
Love, KLBAP (Hooray!)


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Contest! Win an autographed copy of Grumble Bluff!

Fans of Grumble Bluff have been asking for the sequels for years....and I'm sorry that they aren't published, yet.  Oh, to have time to devote to this project!

In one of GB's sequels, Katherine Anne and Greta start an 'anti-bullying' group at their school.  This group is called "STEERS", an acronym for "Students Tolerating, Encouraging, Enriching and Respecting Students". A kind of play-on-words...BULLies...STEERS...

Hey, the girls are only 13 years old!  What do you expect?  Heh...

Speaking for myself, I'd love to see junior high schools and high schools promote just such organizations, devoted to teaching tolerance and empathy between well as 'survival' techniques, i.e. what to do when you're bullied or what to do when you see others being bullied. We have 4-H, Scouts, Sports Clubs, Year Book and Drama Clubs, but what could be more important than eradicating bullying? Every child deserves to attend school unmolested. And every child needs tools to encourage self-confidence and self-like, as well as learning how to safely and effectively extricate themselves and others from dangerous or degrading situations.

In order to get folks thinking about this subject, I thought I'd hold a little contest.  Just submit a suggestion for naming an anti-bullying group at your local school.  On July 4th I'll throw the names into a hat and draw one out.  The winner will receive a copy of Grumble Bluff, autographed to the recipient of his or her choice.  It's that simple!

Below is an email received 3 days ago from a new fan of Grumble Bluff:

"I have to say and I told my girls, it would have to be the most beautiful, entertaining and all time best book I've read. Honestly I'm not saying that... for any other reason except that it was. It had me in fits of laughter and in tears. You deserve so much for writing a book like that and I think school kids should read it as apart of their curriculum if only for the "Bullying"aspect."
Deb in Queensland, Australia

And except from Ashes at Grumble Bluff:

I jumped off the Rommels’ porch, cut around to the back of the house and started running as fast as I could across their back lawn and up the hill that rose behind it.  Arms and long legs pumping I flew, up towards the ancient pine tree that stood at the top of the mound that overlooked Greta’s home.
            Of course, she was already there – hands propped on her knees as she caught her breath.  I heard her laugh at me as I slowed to a stop.  It was a good sound, that laughter.
            “Beat you again!” she crowed.
            “Yeah, but you cheated!  I had to stay and exchange recipes for tuna casserole with your mother before I could leave!”  I plopped to the ground beneath the pine tree and leaned against the pitchy bark.  If I’d tried that run last September I would have dropped dead of a heart attack long before I reached the bottom of the hill.  Now, I was only pleasantly winded.  
            “I’ll bet she can’t even cook!”  Greta sank down beside me and made a face.  “I didn’t handle that very well, did I?” she asked quietly.  I elbowed her affectionately.
            “You surprised me.  I didn’t know you could be so…witchy!” I grinned.  “And here I’ve been telling people how polite and nice you are!  Hah!”  I tried to keep the moment light.  Lord knows she’d had few enough light moments, lately.
            “I shouldn’t have hollered at her.”  Greta began sifting orange pine needles through her fingers.  The air was warm and smelled of pungent ferns and pitch and soil.  Briefly, I longed to be home at Grumble Bluff; my own private woodland sanctuary.  Problems always seemed more manageable at Grumble.
            “She’s a big girl.  She can handle it.”
            “Actually, she’s tiny, isn’t she?  I can’t even remember her, really -- but I never pictured her being so small.  I guess that’s where I get my size.”  Greta was whippet-thin and about five inches shorter than I was, but she was still taller than her mother.
            “Let’s just hope your chest grows bigger than hers did!” I giggled.  “She might as well have Hershey’s Kisses taped under her shirt!” 
            “Shut up!” Greta smacked me in the shoulder and giggled back at me.  “I’m going to have massive bosoms, just you wait and see.  They’ll be even bigger than yours, if you can believe that!”  We loved poking fun at each other because we were comfortable in our affection.  It was different than when other people made fun of us.  We’d both been through plenty of that.      
            We sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the lazy sounds of the birds and hearing the occasional noise of traffic as it passed in front of the house.  Finally, Greta spoke.
            “What do you suppose they’re talking about?” she asked.
            “I think Gram and Gramps are giving her the ‘old what-for’.  I think they’re telling her that they love you and they want you…and she can just forget about taking you with her.  That’s what I think!”  And hope and pray...
            Greta scooped the scattered pine needles into a big mound in front of her.  Her hands were busy but her mind wasn’t focused on what they were doing.  She was thinking about her mother.
            “‘Pamela Grimes’, she said.  I guess that means she remarried.  So I have a stepfather.  Yuck.” 
            “Oh, man,” I said, the thought just hitting me.  “Maybe you have brothers or sisters, too!”  That worried me.  Again, I was being selfish.  But I knew how much Greta had longed for siblings.  She doted on my younger brothers, Greg and Duncan, and had often said she was envious of me because of them.  If Pamela had other children – brothers or sisters to offer Greta – would that make her want to go live with her mother?  I couldn’t compete with real live siblings.  And that’s what I suddenly felt like I had to do; compete.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Mud Run on Vacation...

I’m on vacation this week.  It’s Thursday and so far, it has rained every single day.  That’s okay, though.  It’s springtime and we need the water.

Just… not so much of it.

I’d promised to contribute some items for a Chinese Auction being held at Happy Horseshoe Campground, to benefit the New Portland Community Library.  Some of the donations were large and needed to be transported in the back of my truck, so when the rain stopped briefly and a weak sun tried to penetrate the upper-level clouds, I took advantage of the opportunity to deliver ‘dry goods’ instead of wet.

In my haste (and perhaps in my laziness) I didn’t think my plan through to its logical conclusion.  We live in a paradox here at The F.A.R.M.  We’re on the side of a hill…but in a bit of a bog, all at the same time.  I think this is one of the few places on the planet where water doesn’t run downhill.    

I drove to the barn, where the items were stored in the uninhabited hen house.  No problem.  Perhaps the fact that it’s ‘downhill all the way’ contributed to my lack of foresight.  I dug out two wooden armchairs, a filing cabinet and some office supplies and wrestled them out through the confines of the room. The truck loaded, I put it in 4-wheel drive and decided to travel around the front of the rock wall and onto the upper lawn, instead of backing up the way I came.

Bad move.  I sunk.  And when I tried to back up, I sunk some more…until I was stuck.  No forward movement, no backward movement…just dark mud flying. 

No one wants to admit they’ve had this type of Bonehead Moment, even when they are accustomed to the practice.  I was determined to extricate myself (and more particularly – my truck) from the predicament.  I thought about calling my husband at work to ask for advice, but I knew he would worry about it all day long if I did.  For another split second I considered calling my neighbor Alan, or my neighbor Herb…or my neighbor Dave, but I discarded those ideas just as quickly.  They might not yet have gleaned that I can be a bit of an idiot, and I want to keep the charade going for as long as humanly possible.  I reminded myself that I’m a capable woman.   I wasn’t going to ask for help if there was any way I could help myself.

I trudged up to the house and put on my old jeans, a raggedy sweatshirt and a pair of boots.  Grabbed a pair of work gloves.  Rustled though the shed until I found a chain.  And then, I went to Lena.

Lena is a goddess, as far as I’m concerned.  This 30HP Kubota has saved my bacon more than once.  But I was concerned that I might make the situation worse.  I was worried that I’d get HER stuck, too… and then where would I be?  I could picture Steven’s face if he drove into the dooryard after a hard day’s work and saw not only his wife’s pick-up, but his precious Lena buried in mud.  Mud where there was supposed to be grass.  Just grass, and no mud or truck or tractor.

But I’m proud.  I’m stubborn.  Heck, the word ‘desperate’ even comes to mind.  I threw the chain in the bucket, climbed aboard, buckled the seat-belt and fired her up.  Backed her out and drove gingerly down the hill to a position behind the truck.

I know the movement of a large farm tractor is hardly synonymous with the word ‘gingerly’ but Lena’s good that way.  She knew what I needed and tip-toed through that mud. 

I got down off the tractor and fastened one end of the chain to the towing towing hitch and hooked the other end to the tractor’s bucket.  Started the truck and put it in ‘neutral’.  Considered finding a way to bungie-cord the steering wheel in place since I needed to pull the truck back around the corner and the front tires were guaranteed to turn in whatever direction they wanted to (i.e. whatever way I DIDN’T want.)  But I decided to give it a whirl, first.  See what would happen.  If the world came to an end, at least there would be no witnesses to my humiliation.

I climbed back aboard Lena.  Started her.  Raised the bucket off the ground, put the tractor in 4-low… and backed her up.  Gently, easily…yep, even gingerly.  She never hesitated.  Never groaned under the strain. Her wheels didn’t spin and she yarded that Dodge out of the mud and back onto terra firma like nobody’s business.

Chain off, truck back in the driveway, tractor parked in the shed.  I drove the load of donations to my neighbor’s house and zipped back home to survey the damage.  Hmmm…. If only mud were green instead of brown, the ruts would hardly show at all.  

I used my large feet – perfectly designed for optimum mud-management – to squish the sod down all along the ruts, figuring I’d better take advantage of the fact that it was still soft, wet and easy to manipulate. A few muddy minutes later the damage was negligible.  


I made a mistake in judgment but I felt a sense of satisfaction, anyway.  I didn’t need to call husband or neighbor to help me – I got out of the jam all by myself.  Well, almost by myself.  I had Lena to help ease the pain of my Bonehead Moment.

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Open Letter to the 126th Legislature's EUT Committee

An Open Letter to the Members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee of the 126th Maine State Legislature:

Dear Senator Cleveland, Representative Hobbins and Esteemed Members of the EUT Committee,

Do you have the right to have input in zoning changes within your community?

If you live in one of Maine’s 433 organized municipalities, you do.

If you live in an Unorganized Territory that was NOT included in the Expedited Permitting Area, you do.

If you live in a Plantation that adopted LURC’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan as your own zoning ordinance – whether inside or outside the EPA – you do.

But if you are one of the less than 1% of Maine residents who were unfortunate enough to live in an Unorganized Territory with terrain coveted by the wind industry and not protected by State Law, you lost your rights in 2008.

Do you enjoy more rights than we do?  If you still have the right to ‘have a say’ on how your community is zoned, the answer is ‘yes’.  If the answer is ‘yes’, then you surely will support LD616 – the request of five communities (Lexington, Concord and Carrying Place Townships and Pleasant Ridge and Highland Plantations) to have equal rights restored to us.  If the answer is ‘yes’ but you intend to vote ‘no’on LD616, then please tell the less-than-1% of Maine citizens why you think you are more deserving than we are.  Please speak up.  Look us in the eye.  And tell us why we were (are) deemed second-class citizens.

Isn’t it time to do what’s right?  This decision should be an easy one to make.  Please don’t allow corporate lobbyists to cloud the issue. No matter what they say, passage of LD616 will not disallow their projects.  It will simply give rural Maine citizens the same rights to self-governance enjoyed by each member of your Committee -- the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee -- as well as 99% of your constituents and fellow Mainers.

It’s time to stop stalling.  No more kicking this proverbial can down the road.  We’re Mainers and Americans and we’re asking you to do the ethical thing.  Integrity and fairness call for a unanimous “Ought to Pass”.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Prepare to Bee Dazzled

Well, Bee Dazzle has been launched.  Classified (I suppose) as a ‘chick lit novella’, Bee is a fun little read that show-cases improvisational writing between two authors who’ve never met. 

Saint (my friend and co-author) and I hope that you will honor us by reading this very first in (what’s hoped to be) a long line of ‘a Writers’ Tag’ publications.

To thank you for reading GAG and for supporting my writing efforts over the past few years, I’m starting a new contest.  If you’d like to win a dually signed copy of Bee Dazzle (as in…signed to you personally by both the elusive Saint and yours truly) please take a moment to enter.

The rules are simple.  There ARE no rules. Well, okay… maybe one or two.  All you have to do is guess the first (given) name of the female protagonist in Bee.  For the record, her nickname is “Bee”…but that’s not the name her mother put on Bee’s birth certificate.

It’ not easy, so I’ll give you a hint:  John Cusack.  Heh…..sorry.  It’s a legitimate clue but I don’t want to give the answer away too quickly.

If you’ve already read Bee then obviously…you know the answer – and being the ethical sort (as all my readers are!) you won’t enter your ‘guess’.  But if you were one of the few who read Bee when I posted it on GAG last year, then there’s still another way you can win.  Simply post a ‘review’ of Bee on (found at the above link) then let me know (by posting a comment here) that you did…and what your screen name was, if you used one.  All those names will be thrown into a hat and one will be drawn to win a second autographed copy.

As always, thanks for reading, for writing, for making me smile and for being my friend.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Josie -- All Grown Up

            In 2001, shortly after I began writing “Observations from The F.A.R.M.”, I composed a column about my son Guy, who was graduating from high school.  The article was a bit nostalgic as I reflected on Guy’s wonderful qualities and spoke about the fact that –suddenly and to my dismay – my ‘little boy’ was all grown up.
            It saddens me to say that I don’t have a copy of that column.  Back then (in the ‘olden days’) I typed my columns and dropped them off at The Irregular… at which time Heidi or Bob would re-type them and format them for the paper.  I’m sure I must have kept a copy of the newspaper when that particular story was published (I’m sentimental, that way) but if I did, I’ve since misplaced it.

            Nowadays I type “Observations” on my laptop, save a copy of each column to my “Irregular” file and then attach the document to an email and whisk it on its way through the ether to Main Street in Kingfield.  Those seasoned (and somewhat spicy) experts at the paper can copy and paste me with little effort or fanfare.  Yes, the process is easier and cleaner these days and I’ve got dozens of articles stored on my computer which serve as reminders of the many milestones reached – and experiences survived – here in our little corner of Maine.  I’m pleased about that but I can’t help feeling regret that there are several years’ of my columns (my memories) which are – for all intents and purposes – gone.

            It’s been thirteen years since Guy graduated from Carrabec High School and now Steven and I have another offspring who is attaining adulthood.  Josie-Earl, middle child and Daughter Extraordinaire, will be turning 18 next month and graduating from Carrabec in June.  I know these landmark events didn’t sneak up on me.  In some ways it seems as if I’ve always had kids underfoot and overhead and invading my personal space.  Yes, there have been times when I thought I couldn’t wait until the little darlings grew up and moved out! But then reality hits.  They really and truly will do exactly that.  Grow up and move out.

            As I face the fact that we’ll soon be turning a new page in our lives – a whole new chapter, even – I wonder…and I worry.  I wonder if Josie knows how much I love her.  And I worry I haven’t done a good enough job showing her how very, very important she is to me.  I recognize that I’ve often been too busy.  Too distracted.  Too impatient.  I know that I can’t ever get back all those times when she wanted or needed my undivided attention and I put her off until ‘later’.  Now, here it is…later.  And she’s a young woman who is about to embark on a life that no longer revolves around her family at The F.A.R.M. 


            As I look at this beautiful girl and think about all that which makes up the “Essence of Josie”, I feel extreme pride.  She’s strong.  Kind.  Stubborn. Intelligent. She shares an affinity with animals.  She appreciates beauty.  She loves to learn.  She laughs easily.  She thinks deeply.  She is polite and helpful, charming and witty.

            I’ll say it again.  Wow.

            I often ponder the fates, trying to figure out how I got so lucky. I have three amazing children.  Two boys, one girl.  Three completely different personalities with diverse interests and talents and strengths.  But they are all strong in their own way and that gives me a measure of comfort.  I fret when I think about how tough this world is – how difficult and challenging it can be.  I’m their mother and it’s my job to protect them from all the ‘scary stuff’.  But you see…they aren’t afraid.  Josie isn’t afraid.  Josie is ready to grab this world by the tail.  She is eager to face ‘life’ and the challenges it brings.           

 My only daughter, Jocelia Caitlin Pease…an amazing young woman.  A true woman of substance.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Putting the Bee in Bee Dazzle

Bee Dazzle
By Eugene Saint and Karen Bessey Pease

The Crazy Lady Down the Road…every place has one. But what transpires when – half-naked in her garden – she meets her new neighbor?  When this unwelcome stranger shares a secret about their adjoining properties? 

Karen Bessey Pease (aka “Kaz”) and Eugene Saint didn’t have a clue…but they were dying to find out.  So they teamed up – and Bee Dazzle was born.

Bee Dazzle is the result of an online game of Writers’ Tag between two authors who have never met.  Writers’ Tag is a ‘by the seat of your pants’ approach to writing in which there is no collaboration between the players.  They simply start writing… and the next player ‘takes it from there’.

In the case of Bee Dazzle, Kaz wrote an opening post, then Saint read it – in its raw, unedited form – and continued the story as he saw fit.  The authors had no predetermined plan and no known story-line or plot.  This is authentic improvisation from post to post.     

For this particular game, the rules were simple…there were no rules except that the story had to be wrapped up in under 20,000 words.  Being somewhat long-winded and loving the ‘sound’ of their own literary voices, Saint and Kaz prescribed to the ‘no rules’ portion of the rules and were able to wind Bee Dazzle down in 22,000 words – give or take a dangling participle or two.

Kaz wasn’t sure about combining her well-honed writing talents with those of an ornery and opinionated curmudgeon from Tennessee – but in the spirit of cooperation (and to give Saint a much-needed ‘leg up’) she agreed to this game of Writers’ Tag.  It was a laborious and often aggravating endeavor…but in the end, the results were worth the sacrifice.  

Saint – though skeptical of combining his remarkable writing skills with those of an uppity, self-important woman from the hills of western Maine – has again thrown his body on one for the good of the squad.  Although he’s spent his entire life avoiding greatness, it has been thrust upon him once more.  

While collaborating on this short story was akin to kicking a whale up the beach, reading this soon-to-be “instant classic” should prove much less painful!  

If, after reading Bee Dazzle, you discover you enjoy the Tag format of improvisational writing between two authors – strangers with diverse temperaments, areas of expertise and hair styles – then stay tuned for a full-length Tag novel by Saint and Kaz in the near future.   If we survive the writing…we promise you’ll love the reading!

 And now… an excerpt from this ‘teaser’ novella written by a man and a woman who have (it’s been said) great “synergy”… which is defined as “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.”

Saint and Kaz have synergy… of that there is no doubt.  But do the authors have ‘staying power’?  We’ll let you be the judge.

­­­_ _ _ _ _ _ _

“No body?”

“Yeah, it’s a memorial. That is to say there’s no one actually buried there. It’s different if there’s an actual body. The State keeps pretty close track of that stuff. For one thing, if there’s someone buried there then future owners of a property have the right to know it. Plus, if someone runs across human remains on a property then they’ll know whether or not they ought to be there. And you can’t just exhume a body, you know — even on your own land. It’s a big deal.

"Memorials are different. I suspect that’s why Winston had the plot constructed way out there overlooking the bog — figuring it would be a long time before anybody would want to build on that site.”

“Ah...I see. And therefore I should marry you. Of course. It makes perfect sense. Duh, me.”

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Eli's First Rig

Eli and his Ford Explorer February 17, 2013

We’ve reached another milestone, here at The F.A.R.M.

Our youngest son Eli has just bought his first vehicle.  His very own ‘rig’.

It’s a Ford Explorer.  Ancient, by most standards… but it has 55,000 less miles than the truck his mother (that’s me!) drives… so I’m a bit envious.  Eli’s Explorer has an all-leather interior, electric ‘everything’, a sun (or ‘moon’) roof and – for all intents and purposes – no rust.  In my book, that makes it a ‘keeper’.

The dramatics leading up to the purchase were worthy of a smile or two from this woman who has negotiated sales since Time Immemorial.  I knew in advance what the Explorer’s seller was asking for the vehicle, but I didn’t tell Eli.  I thought it was important that he learn the fine art of ‘negotiation’. He needed to ask what the seller hoped to get for the vehicle and then decide whether or not the Explorer was worth its asking price.  And even whether or not he should ‘negotiate’.

Oh, how Eli fretted over those negotiations!  He was worried about spending too much… but he was also equally concerned about ‘insulting’ the seller with a bid that would be too low. 

“What should I offer, Mum?” he asked.

“What do you think?” I asked, knowing that my techno-savvy teen had been doing his homework…checking out forums and on-line sites about Ford Explorers in advance of any negotiating.  Eli is cautious, careful and level-headed.  All he lacks is confidence in the grown-up world that is comprised of buying and selling ‘big ticket’ items.  To my way of thinking, there was no better time to begin his education than…NOW.

“I have no idea what it’s worth, Eli (and that was the truth).  This will be your vehicle so I think it’s important that you find out what its value is.”

Of course, my words were of no help to him, whatsoever.  He was desperately fearful of making a decision.  He didn’t want to spend all his money but at the same time, he was afraid he’d lose the opportunity to buy a vehicle which had caught his fancy.

In the end, it all worked out.  The price was within his comfort zone and his budget.  In addition, his Uncle Scott – a ‘mechanic extraordinaire’ – kicked the Explorer’s tires and proclaimed that Eli would be getting a good deal.  So now… the Explorer is sitting in our driveway.  Unregistered and with its current inspection sticker soon-to-expire. Still, it’s HERE.  And it’s HIS.

This vehicle has been the focal point of all Pease Family conversations for the last week or two.  Before the purchase, the talk was all about the negotiation process.  Now… it’s about all that Eli hopes to do to the Explorer to make it last for many years… and be ‘cool’ while it’s ‘lasting’.  A paint job.  A new radio.  A new dash? (I’ll talk him out of that one.)  A custom-made hanger to hold a garbage bag, so that his truck doesn’t resemble mine.  Yes, it’s true.  Some sort of garbage container for the Explorer is high on Eli’s list of improvements.  He has vowed that when someone opens the passenger-side door on HIS truck, not a single Diet Mt. Dew bottle will roll out onto the ground.  (Pfffftt!  Big deal!)

Speaking of opening doors, Eli has already managed to lock himself in the back seat of his SUV.  Heaven only knows why he was sitting there all alone in the first place… maybe he was checking out the legroom? Once inside, the doors wouldn’t open. Heh…I wish I could have seen my six-foot-four-inch-tall son squeezing between the front seats and climbing over the console to free himself.  Grinning, I explained the concept of childproof safety locks and assured him that in a year and a half, once he turns 18, they will magically open at his touch.  That, combined with becoming ‘of age’ and gaining a vote should make for a stellar day.

Although several decades have passed since I got my own ‘first rig’, I definitely remember the excitement I felt.  All at once I no longer had to rely upon my parents’ ‘largesse’ to get myself from Point A to Point B.  It was a big deal.  And now, Eli is experiencing that same ‘big deal’.  It’s a rite of passage.  An important part of growing up and learning to be (and being) independent.  It’s pretty cool.

While I’m not the owner of an SUV that only has 156,000 miles on it, I can definitely appreciate the excitement of owning one.  Bravo, Eli.  Stay safe.  And…good luck raising the money to insure your new truck.  I’m sure you’re looking forward to driving it instead of just sitting in it while parked in the driveway. And figure out those locks, huh?  While I’ve always hoped that my children would inherit some of my traits and tendencies, having that type of Bonehead Moment isn’t one of them.   

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bee Dazzled by Packages

First 'Proof' Copy of Bee Dazzle...sitting on my laptop

When I emerged from the New Portland Post Office on Tuesday morning, I was smiling.  I’d stopped by on my way to work because I was hoping to receive in the mail a ‘proof’ copy of Bee Dazzle, a novella originally written as a game of Writers’ Tag by my friend Saint and me.
Saint... and Me
To my delight the proof copy had arrived – and so had two additional packages; both from Australia.  One was sent from Grahame and KK, my friends in New South Wales.  It was a Christmas gift and I’d known it was en route – and that it had been…for six weeks.  Lord only knows what Aussie Customs agents found ‘interesting’ about a calendar made from photos of Grahame and KK’s luxury resort in Australia’s wine country, but I’ve come to depend on those hard-working and diligent agents to find something – anything – to focus on which will delay shipping packages to and from Maine and Oz.
Varykino Mudgee in glorious Autumn colors

 The second package was a mystery and even though I was pressed for time, I opened it while sitting in the Post Office parking lot.  The return address told me it was from my friend Larry of Russell Island in Brisbane Harbor.  The package was comprised of a very large padded envelope and there was a big tear along the back.  The bag was squishy.  Like there was something made of cloth inside.  Was Lal sending me clothing?  After all, when he left Maine after his visit in 2010, he gave me his calf-length Australian leather coat, called a “Driza-bone”.  Perhaps he hadn’t had room for the coat in his carry-on luggage… or maybe he’d recognized the covetous looks I’d cast in the coat’s direction during the four weeks he was here.  Whatever the reason, it wasn’t unheard of for Lal to gift me with something to wear. Larry's "Driza-bone" after  shooting his cell phone with a 9mm  WWI Luger
My frozen hands worked at tearing through the glue and staples which held down the envelope’s flap.  Successful at last, I peered into the gloomy interior of the bag.  Whatever it was, it smelled slightly…musty.  For all I knew, the package had been subjected to inclement weather for weeks on end –perhaps riding topside on a slow boat to China, via the ‘scenic route’ along the east coast of America. 

I reached inside and pulled forth…a kangaroo skin.  A kangaroo pelt.  A kangaroo rug?  I held in my hands the furry hide of an Eastern Gray Kangaroo….long tail, included.

I laughed.  In surprise.  In dismay.  And more than anything else, I laughed because I knew that the gift was sent in an effort to let me share part of Larry’s Australian life and culture.  I immediately looked at the tote bag sitting beside me on the truck seat, which sports gifts from Jack in Queensland.  A ‘roo scrote pouch’ in the back interior pocket and a desiccated ‘cane toad purse’ (both of which Jack says no self-respecting Aussie kid would be without) attached to the exterior key ring holder.

Yep, I’ve been the recipient of a plethora of Aussie ‘culture’.

Lal is (when sober—which of course is almost always!) a man of few words.  The brief note accompanying the gift was short and succinct.
Ornamental pelt on my upstairs bannster...
“An eastern gray kangaroo.  Don’t add water or it might hop away.”  No signature… just those few words penned in his unique scrawl upon a scrap of paper.  It was enough. Enough to make me laugh.  Enough to make the start of my day one filled with humor and good feeling.  I chuckled as I backed my truck out of its parking space and headed west on Route 16 towards Kingfield.

So…I am the owner of a kangaroo pelt.  The question remains – what will I do with it? As I’ve shown it to my co-workers and my kids, suggestions have been plentiful.  The most popular notion has been to make it into a full-sized apron by attaching a ribbon to the upper ‘neck’ part and tying the front legs around my back.  The long tail presented a bit of a dilemma, but again…the majority ruled.  If ‘tail’ored properly, that long appendage could contribute to the making of a one-of-a-kind ‘thong’ apron.

Oh, Lord.

At the present time, the pelt is draped over the banister at the top of our stairs.  The first night it was folded up atop the table…and our three cats took turns curling up on it.  But hides of any kind don’t belong on a kitchen table (nor do cats of any kind) so over the banister it was draped.

What to do with it?  I have two full-sized Aussie flags that haven’t been hung or displayed – for this isn’t Oz and I’m not sure of proper flag ‘protocol’.  I have photos of much of the eastern half of Australia… and videos of pythons eating possums or slithering along the tops of pagodas… and books on local Australian history and (often-deadly) flora and fauna…and local maps of specific regions Down Under (so I can find these friends if I ever travel to the South Pacific).  I carry Australian money in my bag --bills AND coins -- just in case I ever need it or want to show others what Oz currency looks like.  I have autographed novels from best-selling Aussie authors...and Aussie calendars which threaten to confuse me because their weeks begin with Monday on the far left and Sunday on the far right.  I have all this and more…but I’ve never agonized (much) about what to do with these treasures.    

But a roo rug? Hah!  I have no idea what to do with that.  If you’ve any suggestions (which don’t include a scenario in which I’m wearing it) I’d love to hear them

You know where to find me.  Not Down Under but ‘Up Above’… in Lexington Township, Maine. Lexington Township...Maine