What Possesses a Person to Spend Hours Alone Stringing Words Together?

Writing is a solitary endeavor. It requires many hours alone wracking one’s brain over what best words to use when stringing a story together.  I love the art of writing.   A blog tour is going around in which authors describe their particular process for creating a story.

One of my favorite authors, Ann McMan, tagged me to participate. If you haven’t read any of Ann’s books, stop reading this blog right now, and go to her website at http://annmcman.com. Ann’s work, whether it’s writing or graphic design, is like fine food. You bite into it and instantly love it. Yet, the real fun is trying to figure out why it’s so good. What are those nuances and special ingredients all perfectly put together into delectable goodness? Layers of subtle complexity mixed with Ann’s humor and intelligence make her one of the best of the best. Once you’ve read a book or two of Ann’s, then come back to this blog. Below are my answers to the questions of the tour.

What am I working on?  I’m not one who easily multitasks.  My thinking is very linear which means I like to start one thing and finish it before moving onto the next project.  Notwithstanding, I have two writing irons in the fire at present.  Actually, three now that I think about it.  Maybe that’s why I’ve been feeling a bit scattered lately.  My next novel, Blowback, will be out in the coming months.  It’s currently in the editing process, and I’ll be putting the finishing touches on it soon.  To sum it up, it’s a story about guns, family and gritty fishermen of Maine.  I’ve put together a playlist for Blowback that can be found at Spotify under playlists by Bev Prescott.

In the meantime, I’m working on a nonfiction collection of essays and photographs about the trip that I recently went on to Antarctica. It’s been great fun revisiting the memories from such a life changing adventure. I look forward to sharing some of those memories in a book. Finally, I’m in the beginning stages of working on an outline for my fourth novel. I’ll tell you more about it as the idea comes into full shape. Think dystopian story about the future when climate change has fully manifested itself on the human race.

How does my work differ from others of this genre?  I’ve always been a fan of lesbian romance.  I started reading it during a time in my life when I was still very much in “the closet.”  It offered stories in which I could relate in a positive way to the main characters.  But, as society has become more accepting, I’ve wanted to read and write stories where it’s more matter of fact that the main characters are lesbians.  Instead of focusing on the romance, I focus on the complex issues of society that affect all of us.  The romance is secondary to broader issues that I think are important and in need of talking about in society.  Things like war, bullying, guns and the environment.

Why do I write what I do?  Writing forces me to sit down and really think about things.  To research, consider and understand issues that I care about.  I write stories about topics that I want to learn about and share with others.  For example, the idea for Blowback was born out of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I wanted to learn about why and how guns played a role in something so awful.  I needed to learn the truth, instead of being placated by the rhetoric from both sides of the gun debate.

How does my writing process work?  Because of my day job and many outdoor pursuits, I don’t have a lot of time to write.  Therefore, I have to be disciplined about making the time.  I typically bring my laptop with me to work so that I can write during my train rides to and from Boston.  Since I don’t work on Fridays, I spend at least 3-4 hours writing on that day.  I also get up around 5am on the weekends to write before my spouse gets up in the morning.  Finally, I always carry a notebook with me so that I can capture any ideas as they present themselves.  Some of the best ideas that have come to me were when I was on top of a mountain, riding my bike, running or kayaking.  Being outdoors settles my mind in such a way that the ideas for stories make their way to the surface.

Next up, I’m tagging authors Ruth Perkinson and Renee Mackenzie.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and become friends with Ruth Perkinson over this past year.  She worked with me as my writing coach for Blowback.  She’s a brilliant author with a writing voice not to be missed.  She’s written five published novels and has a degree in English Education from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. In addition, Ruth worked as a technical writer for an educational testing company and developed manuals for a large telecom firm. She resides in Richmond, Virginia and is a dog enthusiast.  To learn more about Ruth and to find out about her books, visit her website at http://ruthperkinsonwritingservices.com.

I met Renee Mackenzie a couple of years ago at one of the Golden Crown Literary Conferences.  She is a total sweetheart who takes the best photographs of birds.  I’m privileged to call her my friend, and her stories are not to be missed.  Renee is the author of Confined Spaces, Flight, and Nesting, all published by Blue Feather Books. To learn more about Renee, check out her blog at reneemackenzie.wordpress.com.

I just want to get the fuck home.

There are lots of reasons that I run.  The most important one is that running softens the edges of my anxiety.  It helps keep the prickly “dementor” quiet.  If I let it get the better of me, it takes over every aspect of my life eventually leading to exhausting depression.  I know this because I hit the bottom of my ability to fight it several years ago.  I was in a place where I could barely function.  Where my relationship was suffering because I was unreachable by the person who loves me the most.  Where everything and everyone was a challenge.  Where the only place I felt okay was in my house, away from the world.  My spouse, thankfully, insisted that I get the help that I desperately needed.  I’m lucky.  I had the resources to seek help, a spouse who refused to give up on me, and enough sense to know that I needed something to change in order to save my life.  I’m not only referring to my physical life, but my emotional and spiritual lives.

A few days ago, I posted a picture of me as a little kid.  In the photo, I’m smiling.  I can almost hear my mother laugh as she’s scolding me to get down from the chair that I’d climbed onto in order to touch a Halloween decoration hanging in the window.  I looked happy, content and unafraid.  A friend said that I look exactly the same now.  The comment made me very happy.  It shows the progress that I’ve made to find that peaceful untainted part of me that shines through again in a smile.  Finding her wasn’t easy; and I’ll work hard the rest of my life fighting to keep her at the forefront of my living.  I like that sweet person much more than the harried, angry unhealthy one who kept her at bay for too many years.  That’s why I work so hard at finding the positive in a situation.  At looking on the bright side.  At owning my health by exercising, eating nutritious food and guarding my emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing.  The fruit of my labor is that I’ve never been happier.

Here’s the thing.  Some days, it’s hard.  Some days. I don’t want to exercise.  Some days, all I want to do is eat cake.  Some days, I overthink things way too much.  Some days, I just want to tell every person who comes into my office to shut the hell up and stop making messes for me to clean up.  Some days, I lose it.  Some days, I’m that person stuck in traffic yelling obscenities because all I want to do is get the fuck home.  I’ve been up since 4:30am, worked all day cleaning up human made messes and I’m tired.  I just want to go for a run, eat supper and hug my family.  I don’t like the moments and days in which I lose it though.  They feel like quicksand tugging at my feet pulling me into a place I don’t want to be.  So, say what you will, but I refuse to give in and let it have me.  Yeah, maybe I seem like a goody-two-shoes because I work so hard at being the opposite of cynical, judgmental, angry and unhealthy.  It’s my life, I’m going to live it my way.  Happy, grateful, calm and content.  But, I got to own it.  No one’s going to do it for me.   Or, any of you for that matter.  So, instead of judging the world and succumbing to being your own victim, look inside of yourself and find that sweet untainted person.  She will free you, and make you smile.  I promise.   If you can’t do it alone.  Be brave and do what you can to get some help. 

Cheers, hugs and peace. 

         

Falling in love was unexpected.

When my spouse suggested a trip to Antarctica, I was apprehensive.  It’s so far away and uncivilized.  Not to mention, cold.  But, KC is an adventurer at heart, and I’m smart enough to know not to pass up a once in a lifetime trip.  Plus, her world traveling 85 year old cousin, Rita, said Antarctica was the best place she’d ever visited.  So, more than a year ago, we booked our trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.  As an aside, I’d travel again in a heartbeat with Quark.  They are a top notch environmentally conscious company that kept us riveted with adventure and education from start to finish.  Bravo, Quark!

Antarctica is the coldest, highest and driest continent on earth.  It has no permanent human population.  Yet, many countries lay claim to its various territories.  Thankfully, those countries have agreed to disagree by signing the Antarctic Treaty.  The thrust of the treaty is to ban military activity and to protect Antarctica for scientific and conservation purposes.  I hope the treaty holds and that Antarctica remains a land owned by no country.  Yet, protected by the world for peaceful purposes. 

Our journey to Antarctica began in Ushuaia, Argentina.  Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world situated at the tip of South America.  The city is nestled between the Martial Mountains of the Andes and the Beagle Channel.  The Beagle Channel is a 150 mile long straight that ends at Cape Horn where the Drake Passage begins.  The Drake Passage is a narrow 500 mile wide stretch of wild water where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.  There are no land masses to impede the wind around this stretch of the globe and the water funneled through the narrow passage make this the most violent ocean on the planet.  Needless to say, I was more than a little worried about crossing the Drake Passage.

We embarked on the Quark’s Ocean Diamond around six in the evening.  The Beagle Channel was fairly calm and my confidence was high that the sturdy vessel would handle the waves of the Drake just fine.  The ship’s physician, Doc Ryan, advised us not to wait to get sea sick.  That would should medicate ourselves regardless of the calm.  As we motored through the Beagle Channel, we ate supper, got to know our shipmates and became familiar with the ship that would be our floating home for the next ten days.  We took Doc Ryan’s advice and loaded up on the seasick medicine.  The barf bags stacked on the tables in the dining room and stuffed every two feet along the railings of the hallways were an ominous harbinger of things to come.  Shortly after we fell asleep, the ship began to rise and fall, shudder and creak.  Anything in our room not secured went flying.  Doors opened and closed and I remember hanging onto my mattress worried that I’d go flying too.  The good news is that the seasick medicine worked.  The not so good news is that it’s powerful stuff that left me groggy with blurred vision and a wicked dry mouth. 

The next morning at breakfast, the Drake got worse than the night before.  Waves crashed against the windows and dishes slid from tables crashing to the floor.  Walking was an exercise in balance.  I’m sure we looked like drunk zombies weaving to and fro along the hallways of the Ocean Diamond.  For two days, our vessel rocked and rolled, creaked and groaned in the chaos of the Drake.  Truth be told, I kind of liked it after a while.  Maybe it was the drugs, I don’t know.  But, I got used to the rolling of the ship and liked how it felt as though I was being lulled and rocked to sleep.  When my eyes weren’t closed, I attended the various lectures held by the amazing expedition staff teaching us about the wonders of Antarctica.

On the third day of our voyage, the waters calmed and the South Shetland Islands came into view.  They were snow covered mountains in the distance lying like quiet beacons beckoning us to them.  Sea birds swooped behind the ship and the occasional whale blew at the surface.  Our first taste of Antarctica came at Deception Island.  The island is the caldera of an active volcano.  We entered the narrow slit in the caldera and sailed into the bay.  It was like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  My brain didn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.  A world unlike anything I’d ever seen.  An icy watery landscape of various shades of blues, grays and whites.  So quiet, powerful and rare.  The only sound came from the ship’s purring engine.  I think we were all dumbfounded into muteness at the sight.  Mountains covered in snow and ice.  Icebergs dotted the surface of the water.  The sky was cloudless and the bay as calm as a hush.  The sun illuminated the ice in otherworldly blues.  I’m at a loss to describe any better what my eyes saw.

We spent the next several days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula.  Chin Strap and Gen Too Penguins greeted us at various stops along the way.  Unafraid and curious, they delighted us with their close presence.  Every chance I got, I’d sit quietly and listen and watch them.  Antarctica is their home and we just visitors.  I wanted to be a worthy guest.  In return, I was rewarded with their closeness.  Every time I think about them, I smile or laugh.  We also saw a few whales, seals and loads of sea birds.  All going about the business of life in a harsh yet beautiful and amazing place.  That brings me to the lessons learned from pristine Antarctica.

Life is fleeting and precious.  We only get to be here a short time.  Embrace the sun and your ability to live life to its fullest in spite of the setbacks and difficulties.  Jump into life without hesitation.  I fell in love with Antarctica.  I didn’t expect to love a place I thought was so cold.  The truth is that it warmed my heart in many ways and made me so much more excited about the preciousness of this life.  Thank you Antarctica.  I love you. 

This is the first among many blogs I hope to write about Antarctica.  Thank you for reading.  Cheers and peace.    

    

 

Chicken Stew for Two

This recipe serves two with a little left over.  If you want to make more servings, increase the ingredients proportionally.

You can make this in a soup pot on the stove, a crock pot or Dutch oven.  I prefer the Dutch oven because the cooking process is quicker.

Brown one boneless/skinless chicken breast and two boneless/skinless chicken thighs in a tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven or sauté pan.  Once the chicken is browned, but not cooked through, remove from the pan.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and sauté 2 large carrots chopped, 2 stalks of celery chopped, 1 clove of minced garlic, and 8 cipollini onions peeled and quartered.  (If you don’t have cipollini onions, use a small chopped onion.)

After the vegetables are softened, add in 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary and ½ tablespoon fresh thyme.  Sauté another minute.  Add the chicken back into the pot with the vegetables.  Add ½ cup of dry white wine and enough chicken broth to just barely cover the chicken and vegetables.  (You can skip the wine if you don’t have any. 

If using a Dutch oven, you should’ve done all your sautéing in the Dutch oven.  Place the Dutch oven uncovered in a 425 degree oven and simmer for about thirty minutes until the chicken falls apart easily.

If you’re using a crock pot, pour the mixture into the crock pot and cook until the chicken falls apart easily.

If using a soup pot, pour the mixture into the pot and simmer uncovered until the chicken falls apart easily.

Remove the chicken from the pot and shred with a fork. 

Add 1 tablespoon of arrowroot to a little bit of cold water.  Just enough to get it to dissolve.  Maybe 2-3 tablespoons.  (I use arrowroot or cornstarch instead of flour, which requires making a rue with butter.  Arrowroot is much quicker, easier and less calories than a flour/butter rue.)  Add this to the pot of vegetables and stir.

Return the shredded chicken to the pot and add in 2/3 cup of frozen peas.  Return to the heat and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes to warm the peas and finish off the stew.

If your stew gets too thick as it’s cooking, add in more chicken broth.  If you want it thicker, add another tablespoon of arrowroot to little bit of cold water, dissolve and add to pot.

Add pepper and salt to taste and serve the stew over cooked quinoa. 

Peace. 

My Confession

I wonder why the brain hangs onto certain mundane memories.  They’re the ones that didn’t seem significant at the time.  Yet, they remain as vivid as if they’d happened yesterday rather than decades ago.  The recent flooding in Colorado reminds me of a couple of my own.  As I’ve mulled them over this weekend, I think I understand now why they stayed with me.

Northwest Indiana, where I grew up, is flat as far as the eye can see.  The town I lived in is a small blue collar place that’s pretty much a stopover along Interstates 80, 90 and 94 for long haul truckers.  The railroad tracks I crossed everyday on my way to school, or that lulled me to sleep at night carried the trains that hauled freight across the country, including steel from the mills that dotted the southern end of Lake Michigan.  I didn’t grow up in the kind of wide open wild spaces that I love so much as an adult.  The extent of my experience as a child with wild things and places were summer camping trips to Indiana Beach State Park, squirrels, digging up earth worms and avoiding the wasps that nested in our swing-set.

Then came the Big Thompson Canyon flood of 1976 in Colorado.  My grandmother lived in Loveland, Colorado.  She and my uncle talked my parents into moving to Loveland because my father could get a better paying job working to help clean up the devastation left in the wake of the flood.  I vaguely remember getting piled with my three siblings into the back of my parent’s car.  We drove across the country without stopping.  Truck driving is in my father’s blood.  He loves the challenge of “making good time” and not having to spend money on a hotel.  The things I remember most about the drive were playing slug bug with my sisters, and the extreme cow manure smell in Nebraska.  I was more used to the scent of steel mills.  As an adult though, I’ll take the smell of cow manure any day over a steel mill.

We ended up staying in Colorado for less than a year.  I don’t think my parents were happy there, and whatever my father saw during the clean-up bothered him.  But in that small amount of time, I gathered the following vivid memories that have stuck with me over decades.  I remember arriving in Colorado going from the flat lands of Nebraska to being able to see the foothills and Rocky Mountains in the distance.  They rose like giants over the landscape and pulled at me.  They were silent, yet spoke volumes.  I wanted to know what they had to say.  I wanted to keep driving until we were on top of and immersed in them.  The entire time we were in Loveland, I could not stop looking at them.  They were the first mountains I ever remember seeing, although I was born in mountains.  Even though I’d grown up in Indiana, I was born in Idaho and must have mountains in my blood like my father has truck driving in his.

The other two memories I have are from the day my father took us for a drive into the Big Thompson Canyon.  We drove as far as we could go before the road disappeared.  It had violently been ripped away by the twenty food wall of flood water.  I remember feeling scared and awed.  The place was beautiful, ominous and filled with energy that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Then my grandmother flicked a cigarette into the river.  It got caught in a little whirlpool behind an eddy.  I can still picture it swirling round and round in the foamy water.  It had the pink from her lipstick and a blue line at the filter.  It was at the mercy of the water just like the road, people, animals, and things that got swept up in the flood.  One day you’re here, the next you’re not.  The message to me was better enjoy life while you can, kid.

Processing these memories leads me to my confession.  It’s one I’ve hinted at before and hoped to write about at some point.  The memories gave me my inspiration to do so.  I grew up in a very religious family.  I was taught that dying was more important than living because if you lived a good life, as defined by the preacher, you’d go to heaven.  That was supposed to be the good part.  And, when terrible things happened like the flood in the Big Thompson it was all part of god’s grand plan.  That never set well with me.  Nevertheless, I tried too long and hard to believe in things that I simply don’t believe in. 

There’s a reason those memories stay with me.  They were the beginning lessons from nature and her wild places about what life means to me.  I’m not concerned with the afterlife.  I can’t imagine it could be more spectacular than sitting on a mountaintop in the sun, or paddling on a shimmering crystal clear lake, or listening to the loons at dawn, or falling asleep to the sound of a river rushing by while snuggled up in my spouses arms.  Wild places and things are my religion.  They fill me up, keep me humble, inspire and make me want to be a positive energy force while I live and breathe.  I don’t believe in god, I believe in life.  Peace.

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court Decision that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, this Fourth of July is particularly sweet.  I woke up to a beautiful summer day in my beloved Maine with the knowledge that my marriage to my partner of twenty three years is now fully recognized by my federal government.  We will now be treated fairly and equally to all other married couples.  My family is finally recognized, and it feels so good to no longer be a second class citizen in the eyes of my government.  As it should be.

In addition to feeling relieved, safe, and equal, I also feel a huge sense of responsibility on the heels of Court’s historic decision.  We still don’t have full equality in this country.  Plenty of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are still waking up in states that discriminate against them.  Even though the concept of those amazing words in the Declaration of Independence are perfect and beautiful, there was still inherent discrimination contained within them.  Women and people of color were not included by the original drafters.  All throughout our history, minorities have had to battle to be included in this perfect concept.  And so the battle continues for full equality for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.  We can’t rest.  We can’t take things for granted.  And, we can’t allow those who would discriminate against us to define us.  On this Independence Day, I am determined to live openly and honestly and to continue to fight for the day when all of us are treated equally in the eyes of the law.

Happy Independence Day.  Peace.