That unexpected happening…

IMG_0140Something unexpected happened yesterday, and I’m kind of hoping that the same thing will do so again today. Of course, then it wouldn’t be unexpected. But enough of splitting hairs.

I have been struggling—for longer than I care to even think about—with the novel, Birchwood’s Secret, which I began years ago. It is to be my third book published, and a continuation of the lives of the two main characters, Rick and Karen Brenson, who performed so bravely in Black Wolf Lodge. That one came out in 2010, after many starts and stops along the way.

This current adventure in which Rick and Karen find themselves involved was actually begun long before Black Wolf Lodge. For whatever reasons, I simply wasn’t enthused about working on Birchwood’s Secret and pretty much abandoned it altogether. The rough outlines and ideas remained tucked away in the depths of a manilla folder, in the depths of purgatory in my writing file box. It was then that I plunged into writing Black Wolf, a couple of short stories, “Hobo Willie” and “Pinewood Farm,” and a very fun book titled The Good Luck Highway.

What was I going to work on next? About that time, November rolled around and NaNoWriMo reared its beckoning head and drew me in. And then it hit me that I had a wonderful opportunity to finally do something with all of the notes, scribblings, outlines, etc., still serving out their sentence in the confines of that manilla folder. Thus, the beginnings of my current work in progress began to come together.

At the end of the month, I had accumulated well over the 50,000 word target, but the work itself was scattered, unorganized, and full of problems too numerous to even mention here. Suffice it to say, I was once again ready to re-commit this whole thing to the darkness of the writing file box and some out-of-the-way abyss in a Scrivener Projects folder on my Mac.

But that didn’t happen. I actually went back to the beginning of the novel and began to rework it and attempt to develop it toward some kind of logical and satisfying conclusion. As before, though, that process didn’t go as I’d liked, and the frustration and inability to write much of anything grew and grew.

From the very beginning, I’ve always known what the main premise of the story is all about and who the main characters and the roles they’ll play are. It took me a very long time, however, to know how the thing would end. And that’s when yesterday’s “unexpected happening” happened!

Yesterday, as I try to do on most mornings, I sat down at my Mac and opened my Birchwood’s Secret Scrivener project and re-read what I’d written just a few days before. And for whatever reason, I suddenly knew that a couple of characters needed changed as to their roles in the story, and that another major character (main villain) would have to be worked in.

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Realizing this, it became clear in my mind how I could finally build things to the conclusion and outcome that has been eluding me for a long, long time. And I was able to crank out well over two-and-a-half hours worth of writing, the words seeming to flow as they hadn’t in such an extended stretch of time. And, to be honest, it was a wonderful feeling!

Now, as I wrap up this post, I will pour another cup of hot coffee, jump back to dear, old Birchwood’s Secret, and hope that yesterday’s magic shows itself once more.

My writing friend & mentor…

email (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Every once in a while, I like to write to people and make sure all is well in their world, especially if I haven’t heard from them in a very long time. And so yesterday I sent a brief e-mail to a friend and his wife to let them know I was still alive and kicking and hoped that they were as well.

Both of them are in their 80s and really not doing very well at all. I knew this from the last communication I had several months ago, but I always am holding out hope that the good Florida sunshine and climate will be an elixir that is good for what ails them.

When I checked my e-mail early this morning, there was a reply from my old friend telling me that his wife was no longer able to feed herself or manage any of the other necessary functions and was now a resident of a nursing home. I wasn’t a bit surprised, but it was still sad as I thought back to our first meeting back in the mid-90s, the both of them vibrant and healthy and happy-go-lucky.

I became acquainted with Dick one evening by chance back in the America Online days, when all this Internet/Web stuff was new to most of us. His online name—something indicating that he was a writer—caught  my eye, and I dropped him a message telling him about my same kind of interest in writing and publishing.

And as it turned out, he was a transplanted, retired Chicagoan living in Florida, and he was very interested in my desire to be a writer, having written and published several books himself. From that very first meeting online, we exchanged long and wonderful e-mail letters (most of which I still have in a three-ring binder) for many years.

English: email envelope
English: email envelope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was still teaching middle school, and every March Carolyn and I, our two kids in tow, would head off to Florida for spring break to spend the week with her parents in Sarasota.

The year I met Dick, we made plans to meet with him and his wife, Alice, while we were down there for spring break. Dick and Alice lived farther north,  near Clearwater, so they suggested they’d drive down in their camper to a campground of which they were familiar in nearby Sarasota and have us join them for dinner and a get-to-know-one-another visit.

That turned out to be a wonderful time as we enjoyed a real face-to-face meeting and shared our personal stories of our lives, families, and interests. I could tell that Dick was sincerely interested in being a sort of mentor to me in getting started in writing seriously and, eventually, publishing.

I learned a lot from that first meeting, not the least of which was that to be a writer, one must have discipline—a word that Dick would remind me over and over again in e-mails and conversations in the ensuing years.

And though I puttered and tinkered with my writing during those years, it wasn’t until I retired from teaching in June of 2007 that I sat down and told myself that all of the dribs and drabs and various drafts I had started over the years needed my serious attention. In short, I found some of that discipline which Dick liked to talk about and began in earnest to write my first novel. It turned into Black Wolf Lodge, and I even paid tribute to my friend Dick in the story as the “wind chime man,” a person who had inspired the main character, Rick Brenson, to pursue his dream of writing.

Over the years, the e-mail communications slowed and then all but petered out, for one reason or another. I never knew if I had said or done something to offend my friend, but those long and newsy e-mails stopped coming. Carolyn and I did stop and see him and Alice a few years ago on our journey through that part of Florida, but things just weren’t the same. There was an obvious tiredness in the man, and Alice was frail beyond belief.

Sadly, Dick had lost his zest for writing and now spent most days forwarding news items about politics and the great divide this country has experienced. Instead of reading and enjoying things sent from this man—my writer friend—as I did for several years, I now simply hit [DELETE].

Though it was wonderful to receive an actual e-mail note from Dick yesterday, it was also sad and heartbreaking to realize that age and health have caught up with him and Alice, and those glorious days of “getting to know you” are but a memory—yet a good memory!…CortlandWriter

Taylor Lake Park, Largo, Florida.
Taylor Lake Park, Largo, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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That sneaky old April!

I can honestly say that today feels as though some good spring weather is just waiting to thrust

Springbrook Prairie Naperville 001
Springbrook Prairie Naperville 001 (Photo credit: Michael Kappel)

itself into the big picture—and none too soon, either! The sun is brilliant on this April Saturday morning; the sky is as blue and clear as one can imagine. And the temperatures are a very pleasant 50° at the moment here in northern Illinois. It’s the kind of morning that I really feel guilty sitting here at my MacBook to create this post because I know I should be out doing something—even if it’s just picking up debris and litter, leftovers from the winter blasts.

Chicken Wire Role
Chicken Wire Role (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also, there are the numerous chicken-wire protective “cages” we put around most of our young bushes and trees to thwart the ravenous attacks of the rabbits these past frozen months. Last year, we failed to protect the plantings, and the rabbits chowed down heavily, taking everything right down to the ground. Fortunately, most bushes survived last year’s onslaught, and this winter’s precautions have seemed to work all the better. Now, it’s a matter of taking down the wire and stakes and storing them away until late next fall. Within the next few days, I’ll be making a trip to buy the first application of crab grass preventer/weed-n-feed.

I’ll also be attempting to fix our 20-foot telescoping flagpole. One would think that a simple little release button that doesn’t pop out would be an easy fix, but I’ve had a devil of a time trying to get it to work. I’m sure the problem is all a result of the terrible weather these past months, and I’m counting on the manufacturer to ease my pain and help me get the thing back in normal operation!

Sitting here and typing these words, I realize that April has really sneaked up on me this year. Could it be that we’ve been so beaten down by the winter that just was, that we have forgotten about the ceaseless march of time? And though it’s still been cold, damp, and bitter most of these early days of the month, there have been glimpses of what is surely to come.

And this year, I’m certainly ready to get out and tackle these spring chores that need doing—without any hesitation or hemming or hawing, either! Each day, I am thankful that I completed The Good Luck Highway when I did and am free now to spend the time necessary outside, away from my writing desk—especially on a day such as this one.

I’ve had some wonderful feedback and positive comments regarding my second novel. It’s amazing just how much a writer can learn about his own work through the comments and feedback from readers. My story, a very fun one to write, touches on friendship, love, disappointment, trust, and growing up. I hope anyone reading it will see these elements clearly—while having a fun time along with Mac and Led on their “adventure.”

Thanks to one and all who have bought the Kindle Edition, Nook Book, or the paperback. Very soon, I’ll get back to tackling my next projects: A series of short stories and the next novel. It will bring back Rick and Karen Brenson, main characters from Black Wolf Lodge. It has been a fun story to start writing, and I’m growing very eager to dive right back into it after being away since November.

Long farm lane that dead ends at a chicken house..
Long farm lane that dead ends at a chicken house.. (Photo credit: D.Clow – Maryland)

In the meantime, outdoor beckons…and I must heed its call!…CortlandWriter

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Finally Kindle ready!

A quick post today to announce that my first novel, Black Wolf Lodge published in November of 2010, is finally available in Kindle format on Amazon (,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-69,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

There’s really no reason why it has taken so long, but thanks to Scrivener, it’s all ready now–very affordable–with a much better cover than the original paperback edition. Thanks for considering giving it a read!

I will be back on a regular basis following the holiday festivities and travels and look forward to hearing from one and all. Happy New Year, friends…CortlandWriter

“Up there”… At last!

Writing this morning from “up there” in Michigan on the wonderful cottage screened-in front porch overlooking a most beautiful lake! Moored calmly and serenely this morning, next to the wooden pier at the foot of our slope, is the Tahoe pontoon. Happy to say that it made it through another winter’s storage and is clean and trim and runs very well. She’s been out twice already, now that the Memorial Day revelers and “warriors” have departed, and she’s ready for another summer on the water.

Glad to report that our “move-in” went very well and the place is now in full operation. As usual, the toughest part of the ordeal was the unloading and hauling of the various items in from the truck and the car. But somehow it always gets done, and this last weekend was certainly no exception.

What now? My plans for my time up here include mornings writing here on the porch, sipping good coffee, making the short run into the little coffee shop where there’s Wi-Fi access, and pontoon “cruises” in the afternoons. Add to all that more daily exercise, cottage “housekeeping,” and catching up on reading all the books I brought along. It’s obvious that I will not be without something to be doing at all times.

Current projects? The Collected Stories project is at the top of my list for completion in the near future. I have one or two more short stories to complete. I’m hoping to have six or seven stories included in the book that I’ll have ready for publication this summer or early fall. After those are finished, I am anxious to get back into writing the sequel to Black Wolf Lodge.

I have had so many folks ask when my next book is coming out, and my standard reply is  “I’m working on it and will give it the big “push” this summer.” Well, now that I’m in summer “mode” here in Michigan once more, I suppose it’s time to get to gettin’ without further ado! The book, tentatively titled Sandbar’s Secret, once again features Rick and Karen Brenson, that charming couple who found themselves in a bizarre mystery in Black Wolf Lodge. This time, I hope to develop more of their personalities as they work through another adventure. It will be fun, once more, to be involved in the lives of Rick and Karen and the various other unique cast of characters that come and go throughout the story.

This first week back at the cottage, away from the daily routines of the rest of the year, is always special. There really are no alarm clocks, schedules, or curfews to adhere to. Only mornings of coffee on the porch, enjoying the nature that is all around, and the freedom to decide what to do—or not do. Cool, sunshine-filled mornings such as today’s are truly what flow through our thoughts in the drear of winter. It’s all good…CortlandWriter 

Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, and Quality Teachers

A bookshelf full of dreams and all sorts of magic!

Hardy Boys on a bookshelf

Ever since junior high school, I’ve had a dream of being a writer and writing the kinds of books I loved to read. I so enjoyed my reading classes then, being introduced to authors I’d continue to enjoy for the rest of my life: Twain, Poe, O. Henry, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many, many others. Of course, my love of reading was enhanced all the more when I discovered the Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, and even Nancy Drew back in the 6th grade! I would eagerly await the next book in the series and lose myself gloriously in each one. Often was the time I’d feign illness to stay home from school for the sole purpose of keeping up with the exploits of the Hardys, Chip Hilton and friends, or Holmes and Watson out and about in the fog shrouded streets of London.

And I had some wonderful, encouraging reading teachers during these early years who showed me it was cool to read and talk about characters in stories and look at how the stories were put together, what made them work, and what the writer had in mind in writing in the first place. Very early on, these guiding lessons helped me look at most stories and books with an eager and hungry eye. At the same time, I was developing my own interests in writing stories of my own.

Off and on for many years, I would always say that someday I’d write my own book. One year, back in the 80s, I completed a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature, which I found to be very rewarding and worthwhile. It was the first time I’d ever had professional folks read and critique my fiction. (I still have those stories, by the way.) Real-life responsibilities and time constraints always seemed to be in the way of my realizing my dream of being a writer. My retirement in 2007 from 35 years of teaching language arts and reading to junior high kids, finally provided me with the perfect opportunity to do that which I’d long ago desired: Write that book!

During the summer of 2000, I began what would be my odyssey, culminating in the publication of my first book ten years later. I started the novel during lulls in the summer school classes I was teaching and continued writing at various times at our cottage up in Michigan. The process was nothing but starts and stops time and time again. For a period of time, I even forgot about the whole thing completely.

A chance comment by my daughter a few summers ago led me to the completion of the great, unfinished manuscript. She simply asked me what ever happened to that story I’d started and had shared with her once. She told me I should finish it because she’d enjoyed what she’d read of it the one time I’d showed it to her in its incomplete state. Her words were all the motivation I needed. Thus, I was able to finish the book, which I named Black Wolf Lodge, and published it in late 2010. Fittingly, the book is dedicated to my wonderful daughter Laura.

I am now at work on my next book, as well as keeping two blogs going and simply loving it! Life’s definitely good, and somewhere, back there in the early 60s, are those great reading and English teachers who sparked me to read and write and appreciate the good written word. Thanks to them…

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Get Writing, Fool!

Because it’s gray and cold and rainy, today would be the perfect day to get moving on my next writing project that has come to a halt since mid-way through this past summer, although there are several pages started on two of those. But for some reason, I bounce from one thing or another, or pick up a current book I’m reading and lose myself (and precious writing time!) in it. Not sure exactly why I am not able to jump into this with an whole-hearted effort, and I’m finding it difficult to re-establish that needed discipline to sit down on a regular basis and tell a story.

It’s not as though I don’t have plenty of opportunity to get into the writing mode all over again. If I’m totally honest about things, though, I can say that I’m not completely comfortable with my plot ideas, characters, or overall story development at this point.

I wrote Black Wolf Lodge over a period of nearly ten summers, and I was able to build on that draft fairly easily and complete the whole thing nearly one year ago. I basically am starting from scratch and am uncertain as to developing the second book with the same two characters as in Black Wolf Lodge. And each time I put that partial draft (thirteen chapters) back into “the drawer,” another writing opportunity flashes past, and I find myself way back at square one all over again! 

Perhaps, though, it’s time to give those two characters one more chance and I can bring them out of “the drawer” and let them grow a bit more. And maybe I just need to do a better job of developing the plot line that isn’t quite so similar to things that occurred in Black Wolf Lodge. Whatever I decide to do this week, I need to dedicate my efforts and get on with things–get going once more in the writing life! Down that road I trek…MLA

By the way, Black Wolf Lodge is available from Lulu Publishing.