Empty bird feeders & the writing life

IMG_1393.jpgThe bird feeders are empty again, and the little creatures are pecking around hoping to find some stray remnants on the ground below. Sorry, friends. I was gone all day yesterday and not back until late in the evening. I’ll re-supply the feeders later after I attempt to catch up with my Blogging 101 work. In the meantime, my feathered friends, keep looking for those forgotten seeds.

The previous assignment (“Be a Good Neighbor”) where we were to leave comments on four other blogs we’ve never commented on before, was interesting and rewarding, mainly because it forced me to carefully read the blogger’s post. By doing this, I am not short-changing the writer with some quick glib comment, rather offering my thoughts on what it was she had to share.

One post I enjoyed was titled “Managing my time as a writer” from the Flotsam & Jetsam blog. I think the author, maryruth, expresses the same feelings I have been battling for a long time:

My never-ending problem has always been how to organise myself.

She nails it, too, when mentioning all of the “non-writing stuff” that crops up and drains our time. It would be so wonderful to be able to just write and ignore all of the clutter that keeps us from doing so! Somehow life tends to get in the way.

After considering what she wrote, and leaving a comment, I began to realize that the empty bird feeder outside my window is like the writing life itself: Full for a time but soon empty, with so many dependent winged creatures scratching about in the snow below.

They hunt and peck for a while and then fly off in search of seeds elsewhere. And the feeder stands empty, still.

But then they’re back! Once again they forage and rummage about, and I can almost hear them grumbling among themselves, throwing angry and disappointed glares my way as I write and watch them scrabbling away, laying the guilt trip on me.

Blogging 101’s Day Nine: Get Inspired By the Neighbors has led me to realize, once again, that there is so much more to being a disciplined writer than just writing. We do our best to write when we can…and also make sure the bird feeders get refilled!

On to Day 10.


Time to pull the plug?

When is it time to give up on writing a novel that just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, especially one that was begun several years before and has drawn my attention only in lackluster spurts ever since.

The book is to be a sort of sequel to my first novel, Black Wolf Lodge, featuring the same husband and wife main characters. And since the publication of Black Wolf Lodge in 2010 (was it that long ago?), I have had many people inquire as to when the next one is coming out because they really enjoyed the first.

That, in itself, has been an inspirational motivator—usually—to prod me into getting my butt in the chair and seriously working on the thing. It’s not as though I haven’t done so previously. I have well over 80,000 words in the Scrivener bank, but I find it very difficult to do the rewriting, revising, and editing on a regular, disciplined basis. And that, my friends, bothers me.

In my previous two novels, I was excited and eager each morning (when I do my writing) to get at it and pick up from the previous day’s efforts. Watching the stories develop and come together was fun and fulfilling, leaving me with feelings of having accomplished what I’d set out to do.

Now, though, I sometimes get distressed just thinking of the tatters in which the thing currently rests! My plot seems strong one moment, weak and crappy the next. I can’t help but wonder if this lack of enthusiasm to delve into finishing the story with my best efforts is telling me something: Put the thing away and move along to write other things I have been mulling over. (I wrote about this previously.)

As of this writing, that’s my dilemma. On one hand, I want the story to work and have the protagonist come through once again and have the readers hoping there’ll be a third book in the series. On the other hand, I’m just not sure if the story merits any more hemming and hawing on my part. Of course, I’ll never really know until I decide one way or the other. Which voice should I be listening to?

Any suggestions?

Down the road for 2016…

2016 has arrived, and the holidays are behind us and we’re about to resume all of the regular routines once more. With the onset of the new year, there are many things of which I wish to take stock, one of them being the direction I want my blogging and writing to go. With that in mind, for this first blog of 2016, perhaps I need to re-examine exactly why I started Down Many Roads in 2011.

Roads—particularly those narrow, unmarked country types—wind along and often take us to surprising places we have no idea even exist. I’ve always preferred the off-the-beaten-path roads to the tedious interstates and tollways, if I’m not in a rush to get somewhere! And given the choice of “one less travelled” or the busier, more logical one, I’ll be like Frost and select the former.

Upon retiring from my teaching career, we moved away from a very busy town in the western suburbs of Chicago to a small town smack dab in the heart of rural northern Illinois.

Once we were pretty much settled into our new residence, I discovered the world of blogging and decided to give it a try. My wish was to write about various topics: writing, reading, authors, sports, memories, travel, family life, our children, our grandchildren, etc.

In short, I wanted to venture down many roads whenever the spirit moved me. Thus, I had the title of my newly-hatched blog: Down Many Roads. I vowed to publish something at least once a week.

Despite my original intentions, I haven’t been as faithful to posting on a regular basis, and often times I’ve not been motivated to devote the time needed to do it right.

Where I sit and work on my writing, I can look out my windows to acres of cornfields (or soybeans every other year!) and not feel hemmed in by the hustle and bustle of people and cars on the go, always in a rush to move their lives right along.

I hope that 2016 will be one of good and regular posting on my journey down many roads–that I do, in fact, do it right–and I also hope you fine readers will stick with me along the way. Come along and let’s see where the 2016 roads take us!:-)

“I’ll be back!”

One of the best things about working in this thing called the “blogosphere” is the ability to respond and comment on other’s posts. And I enjoy doing so frequently, as well as having others post their comments on my own offerings here at Down Many Roads.
English: Mid Devon : Country Roads Countryside...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something strange, however, occurred a few weeks ago when I noticed that the comments I was leaving on those blogs I enjoy and follow were not showing up, even though all appeared to be working correctly. My first thought was that my comments were being blocked—for whatever reason—but that seemed strange since it was happening on ALL blogs.

After Googling to see if others were having the same issues, I realized that I wasn’t alone with this glitch. At first, I thought it might have been some setting that I had inadvertently triggered, causing comments not to go through. But I couldn’t find any such setting that would do that. I finally contacted support at something called Akismet, some part of Word Press. I had some timely responses and directions to try some things that might resolve the problem. I was impressed with the quickness and sincerity of their responses, even when the first several suggestions didn’t work.

With frustration mounting (I hate it when things don’t work and my not knowing why!), I sent another email indicating that I appreciated their efforts thus far, but that I was growing more and more concerned as to what the problem was—and if it could be fixed! I’m happy to say that within a day of that E-mail, I received a reply that I should once again try posting some comments as “it should all work now!”

I cynically mumbled, “Yeah, right,” but figured I had nothing to lose so tried it once again. To my amazement, he was right! Comments I wrote popped into view immediately, and they’ve been functioning correctly ever since. I’m not sure what the deal was, or why it occurred, but I’m happy that the good folks at Akismet got it right! Thanks.

So if any bloggers who have seen me offering my two-cents worth from time to time these last few years and perhaps wondered where I had been, it was one of those things over which I had no control. But, in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I’ll be back!”

Terminator (character)
Terminator (character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m looking forward, eagerly, to catching up on reading those wonderful blog posts and sharing my thoughts once again.

Have a good week, all…

Spring travels and microfilm searches…

AldenI write this, nestled in the microfilm section for local newspapers, in the lower level of the Alden Library here on the beautiful campus of Ohio University. I’m all alone, except for my wife, who is somewhere on the other side of the room, reeling rolls of microfilm of issues from the late 1900s, searching for obituaries of long-dead relatives.

I have been busily trying to get a decent connection for Internet access, but being an outsider without the proper OU ID card, I’ve not been able to do so, although I have connected to the GUEST WI-FI, but that still isn’t allowing me to “get out” and access anything on the Internet. That’s OK, but what scared me was the error message I kept getting regarding my Scrivener license. After several attempts to “fix” the issue, I had to force quit the program and figured I would take care of things once I returned to our hotel room later today, where normal access wouldn’t be a problem.

And then I had a brain storm! I wondered what would happen if I quit the access I had to the WI-FI (which was doing me no good anyway) and then tried to launch my Scrivener files: Blog posts and novel WIP (Birchwood’s Secret). Once I quit WI-Fi and then launched my Scrivener blog project, everything worked normally. And so I’m able to write this now, while Carolyn digs into the past and spins microfilm merrily along, in the comfortable surroundings. It’s quiet and very conducive for getting this put together.

Now, why are we in the lower-level of the Alden Library at Ohio University? A couple of years ago, we visited this very area to do research and locate old cemeteries where my wife’s grandfather’s brothers and various cousins and aunts and uncles were laid to rest long ago. And  though that first visit proved rewarding, it still left my wife missing many pieces of genealogical information for that part of her family history. There were a few old, out-of-the-way cemeteries we’d not been able to locate on our first visit to Athens County. Thus, we decided we’d need to return in the future to see if she could close all of the loose ends and gaps of missing ancestral data.

And that’s why I write this from Ohio University. She searches; I write. I look back over our trip thus far and realize that it’s been a good one so far. We left our home in northern Illinois just about this time one week ago, getting a later start in the morning because we both were battling colds and flu-like symptoms.

Our first port of call was her brother’s in Waynesville, North Carolina, where we planned to spend the weekend before heading on east to meet one of my “genealogical” cousins Carolyn had “found” in her Ancestry.com efforts.

Official seal of Waynesville, North Carolina
Official seal of Waynesville, North Carolina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring had just arrived in that part of the mountains, and the next day was full of beautiful colors of the dogwoods, flowering crab trees, and a whole cavalcade of others. The warmth of the sun made for a pleasant day spent out on their large wrap-around deck. It was a great day to recover from our long journey the day before, after arriving right around midnight. Sunday was more of the same, with plenty of reading outside and sneaking a peek at the Masters golf tournament in late afternoon.

Monday found us on the road through the rain, up and down over steep mountains, on I-40, en route to Statesville. After communicating with Carolyn, my cousin had found a nice restaurant in a town that would be a half-way point for us to rendezvous, have lunch, and get to know one another. Statesville was the perfect place, and the four of us had a delightful time chatting, eating, and carrying on as though we’d known each other for a long time.

By and by, we bid them farewell and soon were headed north on I-77 with Beckley, West Virginia, as our destination for the remainder of the day. And I was looking forward to getting back there and staying in the same hotel where I had a couple of Octobers previously for the Rocket Boys’ Festival.

The beautiful countryside was made even more so as we’d managed to leave the rain behind and now had the afternoon sun to make all things bright and colorful. Our plan now was to have a restful evening before continuing on into a part of West Virginia neither of us had ever been before: Elkins–A town where my first cousin, Roger and his wife Jeannie, live.  We planned to visit some very beautiful spots in the area, including Blackwater Falls State Park. But now, it was time to call it a day, get some sleep, and get up early and on the road for the next part of our adventure the next day.images-1

April in the wings, an elusive ending, and Deep Down Dark…

IMG_0817Roused from my work on my novel, I just realized that the blustery month of March is just about finished, which means that the annual guessing game as to what kind of weather we’ll be having around these parts is soon to begin. Will we be able to have morning coffee on the deck before much longer? This is critical, you know!

Yep, the calendar says that it’s officially spring, but we in northern Illinois know better than to put much stock in April’s arrival ushering in warm days full of blooming flowers and trees and lawns magically greening up. Instead, we can be sure that heavy jackets and hats will be necessary at times, which makes it rather difficult to become inspired to get out there and spread the first treatment of weed-n-feed or tend to the cluttered garage. But I’m steeling myself to get my spring tasks completed despite what Mother Nature will throw at us.

But, hark! April is waiting in the wings to give us at least an illusion that we’re through with the brunt of winter’s wrath and that those shorts-and-tee shirt-days are on the way. How soon, though, is the real question. The common saying around here is that the one thing that is predictable about spring weather is that it is quite unpredictable!

Now, I’ve done enough harping about the weather, so I’ll let it go and get back to work on that elusive conclusion to Birchwood’s Secret (originally titled Sandbar’s Secret). I’m resigned to the fact that a massive rewrite is in order for the conclusion to develop. And so it goes…

* * *

Unknown-1My writing struggles aside, I’ve also been reading a very stirring non-fiction book about the thirty-three Chilean miners who were trapped in a copper mine over 2,000 feet below ground in 2010. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2014) is one of those books that is good—yet challenging—for a claustrophobic such as I to read. Knowing that the outcome is a good one makes it a bit easier, yet author Héctor Tobar has created a good deal of nerve-racking tension throughout as he brings to light the stories of these unfortunate brave Chilean miners and their families. I recommend that one not read this book prior to going to bed, although it’s hard to put down.

How about you? Is there a book you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed, but yet made you squirm a bit?