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Storytelling (Nostalgia ~ #13)

A short story, novella or full length novel often begins with a snippet of a story. Sometimes from your own past experiences, sometimes from others. Sometimes from a collage of different people melded into one. I just finished reading a 500 page novel that was born out of some brief family history of the author’s. The following memory came to me suddenly, about my Dad. Many of the subtle nuisances were lost on a child but now they make exquisite sense. 

My Dad was a ‘butcher’ his entire life. Beginning, I would assume as an apprentice when he was very young right up to being a civilian butcher on troop ships delivering men to the Korean Peninsula. (Civilian because he had lost sight in an eye during WWII and couldn’t re-enlist). After he returned and twenty years of working for someone else he bought a small butcher shop. Today his shop would have a fancier name like John’s Custom Meats, but back then I believe the signage said, ‘Meat Market’. Super Markets were just catching on but people were suspicious and preferred the specialty shops and small grocer so he did fairly well.  His work day would begin at 6a.m. and the shop would close at 6p.m. He would work another 1-2 hours moving all the trays of meat

 from the case into the cooler for the night. Then he would meticulously clean the inside of the cases. He scrubbed the top of the butcher’s block with salt and saw dust, using a wire brush. When all was clean he would collect the saw dust from the floor and replace it with fresh. 

Back in the 1950’s the meat cases were made mostly of wood, stretching the horizontal length of the front of the store. Glass in front and accessed in the back by wood-framed glass sliders.  Behind the counter was a large wooden butcher block table. But not the ‘butcher-block’ that we think of today. No, this table was made from one huge, square block of wood with legs attached. A saddle indent in the wood, on one side, was made from years of where my father (and the men he followed) stood and cut meat. The floor was covered with fresh saw-dust, changed out nightly. His knives, which no one else was allowed to touch, hung on a magnet strip on the side of the table. 

Weekly a truck would back up to the rear door of the butcher shop and my Dad would help off-load halves of a whole beef, and whole pig carcasses. Nothing was precut. My Dad would ‘break down’ the meat, cutting steaks (sirloin, rib-eye, T-bone, and Filet mignon), using a meat saw to go through bone. Racks of ribs and roasts, all cut by hand. Every left-over scrap of  beef was tossed into a bin (everything was stainless steel back then; no plastic was used). He began filling the cases with his beautiful cuts of meat. Next he would process the scraps of meat, collected earlier, through the grinder to make hamburger. (Hand cranked; he couldn’t afford electric saws or grinders back then.) There were only two grades; ‘hamburger’ (the cheapest filled with more fat and less meat) and ‘ground round’ (the leanest and most expensive.) The ground meat would fill long trays that fit inside the display case. When a customer asked for hamburger, my Dad would hand scoop one or two pounds from the tray, slap the meat into a sheet of waxed, white butcher paper and weigh it. He was never off on the weight and mostly put it on the scale for the customer’s benefit. If he had weighed heavy he never took away from the mound of meat; that would have been bad customer service in his view. In those days a butcher was allowed (by Federal regulations)  to sprinkle in a chemical that would ‘brighten’ yesterday’s hamburger that had turned a little brown. He would do this regularly and put it on ‘sale’ the next day.  

My mother would drive him to work and pick him up every night. As I mentioned, he was a veteran and had lost the sight in one eye during his time in the South Pacific, thus preventing him from driving. Frequently Mom and I would go early and help close up. Mom and Dad would also make their own sausage to sell. Using scraps of beef and pork they would make huge batches of ground meat, mixing in special spices. Placing a special tip on the grinder, they would attach a casing made of pig intestine on the end. They pressed the meat through the machine and into the casing, tying off  the lengths of sausages with a quick couple of twists of the casing.  

All the years I helped in the butcher shop I never saw my Dad dressed differently. Pure white t-shirt under a crisp white, short-sleeved dress shirt (ironed by my mother), blood stained white apron, with chino (kakis) pants. In the rear pocket was a pint of whiskey in a brown paper bag. His face was clean shaven, his fingers cracked and covered in small cuts. His hair neatly trimmed and slicked back with Brylcream. No matter what time of night we got home, my mother had dinner almost ready. Nothing left to do but ‘fry up the meat’. From the front door to the kitchen sink to wash up, to the dinner table to the couch was my father’s journey. The whiskey had navigated from the hip pocket to a glass sitting on the coffee table. Together we would watch boxing (my Dad’s passion) and shows from the 50’s:  Rawhide, Ed Sullivan, Ozzie and Harriet, What’s My Line, and Candid Camera. 

Now, with a few decades of life experiences behind me I realize my Dad was probably never without pain. Pain in his back from carrying sides of beef and long trays of meat. Working fourteen hour days. And the untreated, jungle rot (tropical ulcers) on his legs must have been excruciatingly painful by the end of each day. No wonder he lay flat on his back on the sofa, self-medicating with whiskey.

I’ll end this story with a funny anecdote.  My Dad hated the narrator for the Skippy Peanut Butter commercial on tv. This was before all of our electronic accessories  of today. But finally one day he happened to read an ad for a remote mute button. It attached to the tv by a cord that ran across the living room floor and ended in a small box with a mute button. Yes, that was it: an on and off button. It finally arrived in the mail and we hooked it up. That night, my Dad waited in anticipation for the Skippy commercial to appear during our nightly shows. The the minute the commercial began my Dad gleefully pressed the mute button and yelled at the tv, “Take that, you S.O.B!” 
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Review ~ The Vanishing by Jayne Ann Krentz

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5 out of 5 quills             Book Review 

This is a slick and clever mystery cloaked in the paranormal. Not all that ‘woo-woo’ stuff but rather heightened senses; something that we can all relate to.
Deja vu, intuition, and sometimes just ‘a feeling.’  

But in this story our protagonists and antagonists….well no… just about everybody in the town of Fogg Lake has the gift. The unique part of this story is for a short while, the author makes believers out of most of us. To write more about the story would give away too much. I highly recommend it and fans of Krentz won’t be disappointed. 

Jayne Ann Krentz (also writes under the pseudonym, Amanda Quick) is an excellent writer. And reliable. Whether she is writing historic romances or modern-day tales, her writing is always consistent and excellent. The Vanishing delivers.

Did you miss my Interview with Jayne Ann Krentz?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Book Review ~~ The Country Guesthouse

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Every time I read the newest release in the Sullivan’s Crossroads series I think to myself, ‘This is the best book in the series’. Nothing has changed.

 

The Country Guesthouse is deliciously good. All the reoccurring characters from previous books in the series appear again. As the reader returns to the campground and country store once more, we pick up where we left off in the last book. Like I said, ‘delicious!’  There is a wonderful love story between a woman, a man, a boy and a dog. And who doesn’t love a love story with a few bumps in the road?

Lots of twists and turns in this story, which I won’t elaborate on since I don’t write spoilers. But suffice it to say, you will be rooting for the new lovers and the newly forged family all along the way. 

I highly recommend this book to my readers! 

Did you miss my Interview with Robyn Carr?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Review: Christmas in Winter Valley by Jodi Thomas

 

4 out of 5 quills                     Book Review reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

This story was perfect  reading for the holiday season. While it did rely heavily on readers knowing the back stories from the series (Random Canyon Romance) it was entertaining and charming. So many characters in this one, but my favorites were Coop, Tatum, Tye, Creed, Dani and of course the horses. I didn’t connect with the other brothers, Elliot and Griffin. They weren’t as well drawn as the others. 

While I enjoyed the story immensely, the whole thing felt rushed. I felt rushed. I wish there had been less story lines and more story. And my only real criticism was the need for the wacky half-cousins, trashing the house, getting drunk, (no character development); they were here, they were gone and they seemed superfluous to the story plot. (Delete key!) And Creed rashly hooking up with the redhead. He wouldn’t do that. He’s too careful about life.  

This is not to say I didn’t finish the book with relish and left wanting more. 

Did you miss my interview with this best selling author?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Happy New Year!!

Petey watching Live PD

I’ll end the year with a little poetry about the love from dogs and affection from cats.  Don’t groan….ewww, poetry...I think you’ll find the poetry funny if you have either cats or dogs. I’m blessed with both.  Rescued of course. 

 

Molly & Barcode

Cat Love

Don’t ruffle my fur that direction! You’re doing it all wrong! I’ve got it looking just the way I want.

I love you but I’m very busy today.

Don’t move, this is my lap time and I’m very comfy.

Scratch right there, no a little more to the left, a little higher, to the right.

Petey & Barcode

Look what I’ve brought you–isn’t it beautiful? I killed it in the garden.

That’s what we’re having for dinner?

You need to work on how you pick your friends. I don’t like that one and besides he had the nerve to sit in my chair!

I could find a better human, you know, if I put in some effort…

But I guess you’ll do…for now.

Dog Love

Stack Dogs

Pet me, pet me, pet me! Oh boy! A butt rub!
I love you to the ends of the earth and beyond!

I’ll just lay here quietly, I won’t bother you, as long as I can touch you.

In memory….Gus

Throw the ball! Throw the ball!
Again! Again!

I love my dinner, you’re such a good mommy!

‘Walkie’, ‘go outside’, ‘go for a walk’, ‘let’s go pee-pee’. Yippee! Where’s my leash?

In remembrance, Sam

I love your friends. That one scratched my ears and told me I was a good dog.

You’re home! You’re home! Why were you gone so long….it doesn’t matter now…You’re home!

You’re the best human ever….I love you!

Fiona & Petey

Molly & Petey

Petey

Part 3, Interview with Australian Author, Dervla McTirnan

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

DM. It has been different with every book, honestly, and I expect (hope!) that this will continue. For the last few books the first draft has been fast and it is getting faster. I think about a book for months before I start writing so I have a pretty good understanding of the key characters and situation before I start. And I always outline. But as I become more experienced I am also trusting my instincts much more, making decisions faster and leaning on my emotional responses to things. I think (hope!) that that is making for stronger books. Then my book goes off to my editors and I get very detailed structural editorial notes back. I really like to go to town with a structural edit. I take at least two months, sometimes three, to take a book apart, down into the sum of its parts, and rebuild it into something stronger. It’s ferociously hard sometimes, but very worth it. Sometimes a book doesn’t need that much work, of course. With The Good Turn only one storyline needed a significant rewrite, but I can always find something to do to make the story stronger. I try to put as much effort and energy and creativity into the edit as I did into the early drafts. It takes staying power, honestly, because the more you work a book the harder it gets…but it’s worth it.

My tiny desk

After that we have copy-editing, which is much easier, and then a proof-read. I keep tweaking right up to final pages, and I always do one final read-through where I read the book out loud, trying to work on the rhythm of the lines. When it’s finally done I never want to see the book as long as I live! And then I see the cover and I remember why I loved it in the first place.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

DM. In every possible way. I’ve drawn on elements of my life for every single book I’ve written.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

DM. Down time for me is mostly not really down time! The wonderful thing about being a writer is that you have maximum flexibility. But I’ve written at least a book a year over the past few years, sometimes a book and a novella, and that’s really a full time job if you want to produce quality books. Until a year ago I had a part-time day job too. And I have primary school aged kids. So I choose to arrange my writing day around the children – I write when they are at school, but I also have to do the usually household tasks during that time, which cuts into precious writing time. I spend most of my afternoons with the kids (and believe me, I know how lucky I am that I have that choice!) but it does mean that I usually still have work to do when then are asleep. For a long time I started my day at 6 am and finished work for the day at around 10 p.m. These days I usually get at least three nights off a week and I love to curl up on the couch with my husband and catch up on TV. This year’s favourites so far – Chernobyl, Morning Wars and His Dark Materials. TV is so extraordinarily good right now and the writing is very inspirational.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

DM. I have a couple of long running stories that I write for the kids when I have time, and I would love to try my hand at properly writing a middle grade fiction some time. I do have a story in mind. But there are so many other stories I want to write first that I never seem to get around to it. Not that there’s any guarantee that I would be any good at it…but I’d really like to try!

Q. Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

DM. There have been so many. But the need for balance, maybe, has been the hardest lesson to learn and the most rewarding. When I was younger I saw hard work as the answer to every problem. That worked for a while…until I hit a few walls that were tougher than I was and paid the price. Now instead of throwing myself up against things in mad bursts of energy and effort, I try to do smaller things but very, very consistently. I rely on routine, I try to go easier on myself and take some time for relaxation and honestly, I am more productive and far happier.

Did you miss Part 1 or 2 of this wonderful interview? Click here

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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Available now!

Book Review ~~ ‘Stay’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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5 out of 5 quills   

 

The exclusive Club that only faultless writers belong to is, in my view, a small membership. John Steinbeck, Robert Service, Dean Koontz, Charles Bukowski , Jane Austen, and most certainly, Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Does Hyde even know how to write a bad sentence? Are the first drafts as lovely as the final product? Or does she scourer her work until it’s perfect? Doesn’t matter. Stay is perfection. And after I read Have You Seen Luis Velez? I didn’t think it could get any better.  I know, I know, I sound as though I must be Hyde’s sister-in-law or something. I promise I’m not. What I am is a very discerning reader and lover of books and stories. 

Lately I had written a post for my blog, (about writing) and the need to always have conflict in your story. A complex story line (which you should always strive for as a writer) has a lot of loose threads to ‘tie up’. Hyde is a master at both. Multifaceted tales with every loose thread tied. In the last ten pages of the book I had a meltdown because she hadn’t revealed what had happened to the two dogs. And then there it was. 

As my readers know, I don’t write spoilers so you will never get a synopsis of the story in my reviews. What I will tell you is Stay is a compelling, heartbreaking, shocking (at times) story full of friendship and hope. While I was reading it, the song ‘Amazing Grace’ would flitter through the  auditory cortices of my brain. Because sometimes human beings can be full of amazing grace.  Buy this book, read it and tell me I’m wrong. 

 

Available at all book stores. 
Did you miss my Interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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Interview with author, Dervla McTiernan, Part 2

Continuing with my Interview with Irish-born author, Dervla McTiernan

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DM. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I was three years old, and at a certain point reading became less satisfying to me, which was awful. I still read constantly, but it felt like something was missing. It took me a long time to realise what was missing was writing my own stories. As soon as a realized that I could experience the same joy and pain, the same highs and lows in writing my own stories I was utterly hooked and I knew I would never stop, whether or not I was ever published.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DM. Character first usually, then situation.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DM. Yes. Absolutely. Usually when I am deep into a first draft – maybe after the forty/fifty thousand word mark. Characters come alive and the story really takes off and I just want to stay in it all of the time.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

Musha

DM. Yes…but I’m not allowed to talk about it! Which is a pain because I am VERY excited about this story.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DM. 2014. That was when I gave myself permission to really take it seriously. I had been playing with the idea of doing an MBA, because I wasn’t particularly happy in my job. An MBA would have taken five years part-time, and when I really thought about it I realized I had absolutely no urge to go back and study again, nor had I any real interest in studying business. What I had always wanted to do, and never ever thought I could do, was write. Given the massive changes we’d already made in our lives (moving to Australia from Ireland in 2011) committing myself to writing didn’t seem all that crazy! So I kept working part-time, and when the kids were in bed I would write for two hours, every night, except Thursdays (wine-night – very important).

Q. How long after that were you published?

DM. I signed my contract with Harper Collins in October 2016, and The Ruin was published in Australia in February 2018, and shortly after that in the US (Penguin) and the UK/Ireland (Little Brown) and then a few other territories followed. Then The Scholar came out in 2019, and The Good Turn will be out in 2020.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

DM. No, genuinely, no. I think with the absolute ubiquity of smart phones, we’ll continue to see growth in audiobooks. People still love story; they’re just so time pinched that they have to try to fit them around everyday life. But for me personally, there’s something that switches off in my brain on those occasions when I get to lie down on the couch with a paper book in my hand, screens and phones off or away from me. It’s such a release from the constant connectedness of my daily life. I think there’s a reason that the growth in ebooks has pretty much stopped and paperback sales are stable. We all want that release. That moment of indulgence.

Q. What makes a writer great?

DM. To me it is a writer is great if they can create characters who feel genuinely real to me. Characters I care deeply about.

Musha

Characters I want to spend time with. Everything is secondary to character for me. I absolutely love the Robert Galbraith crime novels, which are just getting better and better I think (Lethal White was awesome) because I love Cormoran and Robin and I want to be in their world. I love to disappear into a book the same way I used to when I was a kid, and that happens so rarely now but it’s no less intensely joyful when it does.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

To find out, don’t miss Part 3 of this fascinating Interview ~~ January 27th 
Did you miss Part I? Click here

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
To receive my posts sign up for my 

  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

Interview with ‘DownUnder’ author, Dervla McTiernan

Darvla was born and raised Irish. But moved to Perth, Western Australia in 2011 with her husband, their two-year-old little girl …and was 36 weeks pregnant the day they landed. She was a lawyer in Ireland but very burned out by the time they emigrated, and says she was, “keen never to practice law again”. When she went back to work, it was part-time, and eventually she started writing. Her first book, The Ruin, was published in 2018, with The Scholar following in 2019. My third book, The Good Turn, is out next year.

New study

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DM. I have a tiny study off the kitchen of our home, and most of the time that’s where I write. It’s small, but to me, just perfect and we just did a mini-renovation and now I really love it! Writing so close to where the kids spend a lot of their time is probably not ideal, but I have some excellent noise blocking headphones that take care of that!
When I started out we were living in a very small rental home with dodgy electrics – we couldn’t have the oven and the air con on at the same time or the whole system would trip. I used to write at a tidy corner of the kitchen table when the kids were in bed. The house was way too small for us so the detritus of the day inevitably surrounded me. I just had to learn to close my eyes to it all!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DM. I am ridiculously picky about notebooks. I go through different phases but at the moment I like the A4 sized Clairefontaine notebooks and gel pens– I change colour when I start a new book. I usually write free hand for at least half an hour before I move to my computer. I write notes about the scene I’m planning on  writing that day. Thoughts about the characters and setting. What the characters know going into the scene, their mind-set, snippets of dialogue, all of that kind of thing. By the time I get started properly with fingers on the keyboard I usually have a pretty clear idea of where I’m going, which leaves me free to think about how I want to get there.

Before…

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DM. Hmm. Tricky one! There are lots of things but it’s hard to think of something people might be interested in! I have a golden retriever, who lies outside my bedroom door every morning to guilt me into take her for a walk. She loves a good walk because she is ridiculously social and wants to chat with every human in the park and be generally admired. What she does not like to do is run. I’ve started running again for the first time in years (for running read *gentle stagger*) and she objects by lying down or dawdling along two hundred metres behind me. If I put her on the lead I have to tow her around like a little tow truck, and everyone in the park looks at me like I am cruelly punishing her. Then I let her off the lead and she spots a dog she likes and she’s off running like a crazy thing. It’s all very frustrating.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DM. I used to have a very strict routine – 8pm to 10pm every night, because I was working around kids and a day job. Now that I’m writing full time I generally write between 9.30am and 2 pm, and then again at night from 8pm for an hour or two. Not all of that will be active writing time. I have emails to deal with, of course, and the usual admin stuff that somehow manages to creep into my day despite my best efforts! And household tasks. But I will try to get a minimum of two hours active writing time a day and ideally that will be closer to four or five.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DM. Respect the story and respect your instincts. If it feels wrong then maybe it’s time to backtrack and see if you lost the organic thread of the story somewhere. Or if your story is fine and your procrastination is just coming from that fear/avoidance place we all have, I think it can be useful to trick yourself into it. Make a really nice cup of tea, find some chocolate, sit down and tell yourself you’re just going to have fun for a while. Write in a notebook rather than on your computer. Write some random scene from later in your book. Do an exercise where you write your character first person if your book is usually third. Basically anything at all that feels more interesting than scary. Usually I find that within half an hour the fear is in my rearview mirror and I am writing again.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DM. Everywhere and anywhere! Only one character ever came to me fully formed, and that was Maude Blake from my first book, The Ruin. I had this very clear picture in my head – two children, sitting on a stairs in a crumbling Georgian mansion deep in the Irish countryside. Maude was fifteen, and Jack only five. They were holding hands. The house is very, very cold, all the lights are off, and it’s getting dark outside. I knew that they were afraid. I knew that Maude loved her brother so much, that she had protected him from the moment he was born and that now she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to protect him from what was coming next. And that was it. I knew Maude from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet but I didn’t know anything else, not what had brought them to that place nor where they would go next. I had to write the story to find out.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

Join us for Part 2 of this interview with Australian author, Dervla McTiernan
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
To receive my posts sign up for my 

  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!

 

 

Available now!

 

                                                   

 

Book Review ~~ The Summer of Sunshine & Margot

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing           4 out of 5 quills   Book  Review

 

Susan Mallery always delivers a solid story. The Summer of Sunshine and Margot was no exception.  I found the main characters (Sunshine & Declan, Margot and Alec) empathetic and charming. I had a little trouble with Margot’s career and the services her company offered. Was she a life coach? A therapist? A baby sitter for adults? It was never made clear. 

And that leads me to write about one character, in her story. Bianca. She was an aging film star who evidently had been indulged her entire life. The result was an implausible, spoiled brat. Immature, thoughtless, reckless and a bully. I worked in Hollywood many years ago and her antics would have led her to be, at the worst, blackballed. Or at best, she would have been considered a ‘difficult’ actress when casting a film and to be avoided. Difficult actors cost money.  I found her outrageous behavior tiresome and unbelievable. 

The character of Bianca was the reason I couldn’t give this book my highest rating. 
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
To receive my posts sign up for my 

  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!