The Aftermath of a Signing and a Realization ~ by Darlene Kuncytes

I just got back from Penned Con in St. Louis.

This was my first time attending this event, and to say that is was overwhelming would be a severe understatement.

It was…mind-boggling!

I’ve done my fair share of wonderful signings through the years, and I live for the energizing jolts I get from readers when I go to them. Not to mention the sheer joy of meeting in the flesh people I now consider good friends. That is SUCH a bonus!

And Penned? It was off the charts electric!

Well put together, this event was huge. And I loved every single crazy moment of it! It was non-stop fun!

But, as I sat there, taking in all of the hustle and bustle as avid readers strolled through the aisles, their eyes alight with excitement as they pulled their carts of books so happily behind them, or carried their heavy totes as if they weighed nothing…I realized something.

There is absolutely nothing better than that moment when you fully understand that you are in the presence of true readers.

It hit me like a thunderbolt from above as I sat there quietly sipping my coffee as people began pouring in.

In a day filled with cell phones, binge-watching TV, video game playing technology, these amazing people simply still just LOVE books! They love everything about them. And they love the storytellers who share them!

As an author, I know there are those fabulous creatures out there who love the written word. I’m blessed to have an amazing group of readers. But, in a world of social media, we sometimes forget to really see how much our readers love books. They really, truly love everything about them.

And I needed that. I needed to breathe in all of that enthusiasm and eagerness on an epic scale. I watched. I listened to them talk with my fellow authors, saw their smiles genuine and happy and filled with glee, and I thought to myself…My God, they really, really do love books! (insert Sally Field Oscar acceptance speech here. Lol)

And it is invigorating as all get out! This type of genuine excitement feeds a writer’s soul more than anything else possibly could. It make us realize that what we do matters!

I will admit, that of late, there has been a small part of me that was beginning to worry that life was getting a bit too busy and hectic. That everything nowadays is about convenience, and the ease in which things come to us, and that the days of curling up with a good book and losing yourself for a while were becoming fewer and farther between.

That’s not the case, thankfully. 

Readers are the most amazing people on earth. They really are.
They live for losing themselves to magical places and using their imaginations. They love getting lost in worlds created by authors who love weaving those tales, and I am grateful for each and every one. 

Whether you read my books, or the books of others…the point is, you are reading!!! And THAT, my friends, is what matters!
So, from the bottom of my heart…Thank you!

And always remember to live, love, laugh, and READ!

It’s Just a Dog…And that’s what makes them so extraordinary, Part 8~by Joanne Jaytanie

In May of 2018, I lost Maya, my last Doberman. That date marked the end of 37 years with at least one Doberman in my life. At that time, I was pretty sure I didn't want another. I couldn't bear the heartache, the worry, the extra work that a dog brings with it. 

But the very first time I walked into my house and a Doberman wasn't there to greet me, it felt empty and cold. It was a house. No longer a home. And as time went on that feeling never changed. 

We'd lived in our home for 28 years, and the first night I spent alone in the house, I was uneasy, I couldn't sleep, and I thought I heard Maya. I don't think I went out in the backyard more than a dozen times over the year. A big change from before when I spent part of every day there.

I couldn’t make it through a single day without at least one bout of tears. One day Ralph said, “We need a puppy.” He was right, that much I knew, but could I go through it all again? So, we started talking about a puppy. And we finally decided to take the leap once again. 

Meet Mazie!

Mazie is 14 weeks old today. 

It's been a very long time since I've raised a puppy! They keep you on your toes. I have no idea how I raised littermates – TWICE! Of course, my husband reminds me that I was younger.

Mazie is an incredible puppy, and we already love her.

 She loves people. 

She’s a thinker, which is both good and bad. 

She is very curious and will try new things, usually with a cookie as her reward.

Mazie loves to sit in your lap, to walk between your legs, to sleep under my desk. She is generous with her puppy kisses and loves to cuddle.

There will come a day when she will break my heart all over again. I can only hope and pray that day will be years and years away. But I choose to have Mazie in my life. She has brought laughter back into our home. Unconditional love. Someone who's always by my side and listens to my chattering. Life is better when you share it with a dog.

Until next time…

Grandpa's Coffee Cup ~ by Grace Augustine

Morning after morning Grandpa would brew a pot of coffee. I
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wouldn’t actually call it coffee, it resembled thick, black goo but it was something he enjoyed. The blacker the better.

“Ah,” he would say. “Elixir of the gods.” A broad smile would then cross his face as he picked up the newspaper and read the daily tidbits which could be anything from the markets to the local sports.

The coffee always accompanied countless games of solitaire, too. Sometimes he’d cheat to win, sometimes he’d be frustrated, smacking the cards into submission.

As the mornings wore on, there were always chores to do…dusting,
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heading to the garage to work on some project that would prevent him from doing “woman’s work.” Then there was always the trip to the restaurant for more coffee and kibitzing with the locals that had the same agenda.

If there was a Chicago Cubs or Chicago Bears game on television, he would be in the corner rocker watching the games with his eyes closed. Even though Grandma wasn’t paying attention to television, she always had something to say about him sleeping through whatever program he’d chosen to watch. She would peer occasionally over her glasses while making sure she didn’t drop stitches from her current knitting project.

Saturdays were for driving the countryside. It was setting out with no agenda and taking country roads and driving with no destination in mind. Sometimes it would be hours, sometimes it would be thirty minutes. It was always an adventure in the back seat when it happened because as a kid, I spent time with two of the most wonderful people.

Sunday, while Grandma dressed, Grandpa always put on his gray suit and white shirt and drove to church, only a few blocks away. After services it was the trip home to change clothes and dive into the roast beef dinner that had been cooking while they were away.

Grandpa was a master storyteller. Having served in WWII, he had many things to share—shenanigans of his unit mates, the enemy, where he was stationed, operating the weapon assigned to him, fixing the vehicles. It was always new, even if he’d told the story a hundred times.

He wasn’t afraid to spend time with his grandchildren. He would
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load my brother and me in the red wagon and we’d take walks around the block, sometimes never getting any further than the end of the driveway if the neighbor (his best friend) was outside. If we did make it around the block, a stop at the neighborhood park happened and he pushed us in the swings or on the merry-go-round. When it was time to leave, we knew not to whine about not wanting to go. We hopped back in the wagon and rode the block back to his house where Grandma had a yummy snack waiting.

Again, I’d see Grandpa reaching for the old stained coffee cup, pour the dark liquid into it and pop it into the microwave before grabbing a couple freshly baked cookies and sitting down at the table to watch a game show and play more solitaire.

In his later years, he spent most of his time in the corner rocker sleeping. He passed while I was in high school. I regret that I didn’t
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have more time with him.

Every now and again when I make my morning coffee, I smile…I see a lot of him in my coffee cup and hope that I can live up to the man I saw in my Grandpa.

     --Grace Augustine 2017 (c)

**Author's Note: This flash fiction story was inspired by my boys's paternal grandfather. It is told from their perspective.

A Most Ancient Skill – Not what you think (Acanthus Part 2) By Ralph Duncan

In our previous discussion of the Acanthus, we explored the origin of the use of the leaf in carvings and ornaments and its cultural adaptations and interpretations. We noted that the different characterizations of the acanthus were largely a result of variances in culture. However, it could also be argued that the tools available at any given time in history played as large, or even larger role in how the Acanthus was interpreted. 

While the precise timeline of carving tools is somewhat a mystery, we can see at least a preference in tools by the carving itself. When speaking specifically of ancient wood carvings (around 400-500 bc) we see mostly flat surfaces and flat-edged carvings. The picture below is a copy of one I produced in my shop. Visible are the surfaces of the leaves all at one level and are rendered by incising flat planes with knives only. 

The knives I have in my shop, are fundamentally the same tools that have been used for centuries to produce very elaborate carvings. 

While we do not know when curved and rounded carving gouges appeared on the stage, we do see very delicate carvings appearing around the 14th century. In many cases, these carvings still exist and are regarded as some of the most beautiful and sophisticated carvings in history. It is clear that the production of these carvings included the addition of tools other than straight knives.  

Tools began to be manufactured, by family-run companies that are still in existence today. Companies have designed and produced hundreds of variants on the carving gouge. Some of the same tools that my ancestors used are still in existence today. Many examples I have in my shop.

While these tools did gain popularity, the master carver did not give up his knife. We see many carvings appearing that showed both signs of marks created by knives as well as curved gouges. Look at the “curly” carved pattern in this picture. Several cuts were likely made with the knife, while still others have curved and beveled surfaces that could only be made successfully with a gouge. 

As we look back at one of our acanthus examples, the impact of the development of sophisticated shapes and curved tools foster carvings with sweeping curves and delicate forms. 

The pursuit of wood carving is an endeavor from which there is no graduation. It is a constant and humbling challenge to produce, or reproduce, a quality piece in the same manner as the expert craftsmen of centuries gone by.

There you can also view some of his artwork.

An Incurable Romantic Anglophile ~ by Author Mary Ann Bernal

I guess one would say my writing career began in the fourth grade where my teacher was impressed with an original poem of twenty-seven words, and yes, I still remember the verse. Her encouragement remained with me throughout high school when my abilities were recognized during extra credit presentations. Although my college degree is in business administration, I attended creative writing workshops throughout the ensuing years.

Required reading during tenth grade was “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott and “To Have and to Hold” by Mary Johnston. Why do I recall these particular novels? The aforementioned titles are the building blocks of my literary aspirations. 

Ivanhoe, the heroic knight who saves the Jewish maiden, Rebecca, and marries his love, the lady Rowena. This story is set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart in 12th century England. Thus began my love affair with the Middle Ages, specifically, Britannia.

In “To Have and to Hold”, English soldier, Ralph Percy, buys a wife, Jocelyn Leigh. Over the course of the story, husband and wife are separated, and Ralph Percy does go to the ends of the earth to be united with the woman he had come to love. Romantic, isn’t it? 

Blend the two tales and, behold, an incurable Romantic Anglophile finds the perfect genres to explore.

Hollywood also deserves some inspiration credit. During my formative years, period blockbusters such as “Ivanhoe” and “The Vikings” appeared on the big screen. And because these films made money, more followed from “Knights of the Round Table” to “Prince Valiant” and so on. You might recall Hal Foster created a Prince Valiant comic strip in 1937 (before my time) and continued through 1971 (Mr. Foster’s last). 

When did Erik the Viking become a spark? After seeing Kirk Douglas wield a sword, followed by King Alfred, and we must not forget Beowulf.

Of course, life has a way of interfering with literary aspirations, which kept Erik in the recesses of my mind until my son married. Erik now demanded to be heard. He was tired of being in the shadows, he wanted the recognition, he wanted his story told. 

Hold on – I needed to learn the craft because there are rules, aren’t there? Writing workshops were not enough. With the advent of the computer, more choices were open to me. I could enroll in an online course and participate when I had the time, even if it meant wearing my pajamas and drinking coffee at first light.

Success, I completed several courses, so now I could put paper in the typewriter – not really. No need for correcting tape or white-out and forget carbon paper! We had word processing software and all you had to do was backspace to delete a word, and there was Spellcheck! Wow. One drawback with Spellcheck – causes a person to not be overly concerned with possible misspellings – Spellcheck was on the ball, Spellcheck would pick up the slack if auto-correct didn’t fix the error immediately. 

Being an organized person and following established guidelines, I
created an outline, scribbling a few words next to each chapter heading including the characters controlling the story line, Erik and Gwyneth, the femme fatale, who arrived on the scene shortly after Erik dominated my thoughts. But I was not able to start writing yet. There were the supporting cast members to be named, there were locations to add, there were maps to draw and a glossary to list archaic words for historical fiction newbies.

Is it safe to assume the story starts now? Well, sort of: we do meet Erik and Gwyneth in the first chapter, and they do continue to dominate the early pages of the novel, but something unforeseen happens, and I wasn’t ready for the onslaught of the secondary and less important characters demanding, and I mean DEMANDING more “screen time”. 

What was happening here? Who were these fictional characters that had come out of nowhere as the story developed? Why should I have listened to them? It was getting out of hand and complicated because now, I had to have a map of Wessex updated frequently so I could remember which character was where at any given moment. Suddenly, I found myself fully immersed in an epic, voluminous
narrative, and my Erik the Viking novel had evolved into a trilogy. How could I, in good conscience not tie up loose ends when everyone deserved an ending, happy or not? We, the reader, want to know.

I did not wish to leave Wessex yet and decided to write a character spin-off, a coming of age story with “The Briton and Dane: Concordia”. This time I fought with the minor characters, refusing to let them “rain on Concordia’s parade.” They tried, but they failed. And I was proud of maintaining control. I was in charge, wasn’t I? Not my fictional characters.

Reflecting on Erik and Gwyneth’s role in the trilogy had me feeling guilty because the trilogy wasn’t really just their story, it was David and Helga, and Stephen and Elizabeth, and Rigr and Dalla – you get the drift. There was nothing else to do but try again with another novel, “The Briton and the Dane: Timeline.” Grant it, “The Briton and the Dane: Timeline” is a time travel romantic fantasy, and Gwyneth is transported back to England before William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066. While they might not be the original Erik and Gwyneth in my mind’s eye, it is still their connection, a bond that transcends time. And I was successful! I finally wrote my Erik the Viking novel.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. I had to leave Wessex and move on to other projects. It was hard saying goodbye to these wonderful characters who took up a good portion of my life, but I would not change anything, because I had fun in Alfred the Great’s England.

Mary Ann Bernal
Mary Ann Bernal is an avid history buff who also enjoys science fiction. She is a passionate supporter of the U.S. military, having been involved with letter writing campaigns and other military support programs since Operation Desert Storm. All of Mary Ann’s novels and short story collections are dedicated to fallen military heroes who gave their lives defending our freedom. A prolific writer originally hailing from New York, Mary Ann now resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.  You can contact her at the following links:


Schnaggle of Schnauzers by Ruth Ross Saucier

I was once the mother to a schnaggle of six schnauzers. Yes, the AKC has dubbed a collection of schnauzers as either a “shout” or a “schnuggle” of schnauzers, but schnaggle sounds more like the chaos I experienced, so that’s my call.

Due to a precocious boy who didn’t listen when the vet said he couldn’t, we were the proud parents of Mom Liesl, Dad Shadow, Uncle Snickers, and the three little girls: Emily, Peabody, and Derry. They were generally a joy, but occasionally a trial.

One winter evening I came home to an unsettling sight: the house was all lit up and the front and side doors were wide open to the frigid night. From inside came a banging and a clashing accompanied by occasional grumbling and swearing.

But where were the dogs? The doors were never wide open!

I peered into the living room to see damp floors and no sign of dogs. An irate husband explained this way (heavily edited to avoid offending your sensibilities):

The latest trip to Costco had scored enormous bags of rawhide chews, Milkbones, and multi-colored pasta. All the bags had been squirreled away in the back of kitchen cabinets, but one of the Gang of Six had discovered how to open cabinet doors and drag out all three humungous containers onto the floor—along with miscellaneous other bottles, boxes, and canisters.

All six reaped the bounty.  They started by gorging on the Milkbones and then found the rawhide chews.  Since any self-respecting schnauzer knows that the rawhide chew you have is never as good as the one your sister has, they did their usual routine: chew yours, steal hers, argue over it, and then when you’re tired, stash as many as you can where nobody else will see them. And then somebody found the multi-colored pasta, ripped into the bag, scattered the contents everywhere, and chewed several, searching for one that tasted better than the last.

The all-day Bacchanalia ended predictably: Everybody threw up, here and there, hither and yon, and then proceeded to repeat the procedure above.  And the hording was epic. Milkbones, rawhide chews, and pasta [both untouched and regurgitated] were found stashed in every nook and cranny: next to, behind, on top and under the piano, the sofa, the fireplace, and the books. 

The dogs were quarantined in the bathroom while the whole house got a liberal swabbing. And then, of course, that was followed by six baths, since it’s hard to wrassle over a chew bone without rolling in puke. 

Two years later we moved the sofa from one side of the room to the other. In the old spot there were a few rawhide bones on the floor.  Thinking that was odd, I tipped the sofa up to investigate. A few more chew bones spilled out and a torn liner disgorged the schnauzers’ secret stockpile. A full inventory revealed over 125 chew bones, stashed in the underside of the sofa. Yes, 125.

Child locks went on the kitchen cabinet the next day.

State Fair Time ~ Lexa Fisher

It's state fair season! As has been our practice for over a decade, in late August we attended the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, WA. Every year the fair has a theme, and you can see this year's in the photo at the side.

The 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands, Health) animal exhibits are favorite attractions for us, though I always want to take home a small farm's worth of cute animals like the ducks (I love their soft squabble sounds) and dwarf goats. 

One of my favorite challenges is to find eggs in the chicken displays. We were treated to many different chicken breeds, and even fan-tailed pigeons, but the only egg we found was in the duck exhibits.

For over a decade my husband has enjoyed the International Lumberjack ShowAxe throwing, crosscut sawing, underhand chopping, tree climbing, springboard chopping, and log rolling are all part of the skills these men demonstrate.

No day at the fair is complete without a Fisher scone (no relation to me), for which the fair is famous. Spread with Fisher raspberry jam, it is delicious!

After we enjoyed a scone snack, it was off to the petting zoo! The animals are friendly, and eager for their snacks, too. In addition to the usual farm yard pigs, cows, goats, ducks, mules, and ponies, this year there were even a couple of small kangaroos sharing the tent.

Not going to make it to Area 51 this summer for the big storming event? Area 51 came to the fair this year! 

There is so much to see and so much fun to have. But at the end of the day, even the animals are a bit harried. 

Until next year!

Writing, Audio Books, and the Mind of a Humor Writer ~ by Jocie McKade

Before I was a writer, I was a reader, and I still am. I can devour a book in a day. The only time I don't read is when I'm writing and on a tight deadline. It isn't often anymore that I get a couple of hours in a row to sit and read. So, over the years I've learned to grab reading time any way I can. One of the best ways I used to do this was by listening to audio books. Yes, I said 'used to'. I've had a couple of incidents, that well, let me just say audio books should come with warning labels.

"Warning: Do not operate small lawn equipment while listening to this audio book."
"Warning: Keep car windows rolled up when listening to this audio book."
"Warning: You could look like an insane woman while listening to this audio book."
"Warning: Thriller writers do this on purpose to scare the bee-jeebees out of you."

You have been warned.

I have listened to many audio books yet it wasn't until this summer I discovered some of them have sound effects. Not those nice lovely romantic background music sound ef-fects, no.

I have a riding tractor (I dream of a big tractor...someday) and it takes me about 6-hours to mow here at Dust Bunny Farm. So, instead of just idly driving around in circles I see this as an
Jocie and her tractor
opportunity to (I am woman!) multi-task. This, of course, leads me to believe I can listen to a bestseller, a self-help book (heaven knows I need some), or a learn a foreign language (I am currently working on Italian and now know all their food groups and how to ask where the bathroom is.)

Living out in the boonies I can let the grass grow a bit taller than if I lived in town, and with the weather being so horribly wet, it has made the grass tall, and in places, such as over the septic system, where there is plenty of fertilizer, quite high. Which as you’ll dis-cover hides a lot of things.

Last week, a friend lent me a Tom Clancy audio book - SSN. This is an older book, I think from back in the late 1990's, but I hadn't read it and it looked or should I say sounded pretty good. For those who aren't familiar with this book it takes place aboard the U.S. submarine USS Cheyenne (since my Baer books are set in Wyoming, this was an incentive to listen), and leads to an epic WWIII type battle/stand-off with China. I think this was based on one of Clancy's video games. Anyway, I digress.

The reader on the audio book was good, and I could hear him over the mower (some-times ya can't). I made a pass down the front field as the story started, smiling with the intro music that reminded me of my mom's tapes of old radio shows. 

Then a second voice sounded, female. This was interesting. Either this audio book had two readers or the man was really good at doing a female voice. Then I heard it, the familiar Hollywood binging that always sounds on a submarine's sonar in the movies. Since I've never been on a sub and have no desire to be on one, I accept that sound as true. Bing! Bing! The sonar sounded. Cool! Sound effects! 

I finished a dozen more passes, then the Chinese showed up.They
were stealth, they were cunning and they were deadly. The mower slowed, as I listened to the details. Bing! The sonar picked them up, just above or below, I don't remember, but they were close, everyone on board the USS Cheyenne was holding their breath. Bing! Crap, I nearly jumped off the tractor. Taking a deep breath, I angled over toward the south side of the barn. The grass was higher here, (septic system) which made me slow down even more. Yes, this was on purpose so I could hear all the details of the two subs meeting each other in battle. Bing! Bing!

Suddenly, they were lined up for attack and just as a torpedo was launched, I ran smack over a piece of chain that was lurking in the grass. The torpedo hit, the blades clanked against the chain, pieces of metal sparked in the grass, I screamed and ducked. My nose smacked the steering wheel, I shut off the blades, but forgot the engine as I bailed off the mower, the attack was intensifying. The kill-switch shut the tractor off, my knees slammed into the ground- skinning them both, the dogs next door began howling, and my hubby dropped the weed-eater, nearly having a heart attack running to see what the heck was attacking me.

"What happened?" He asked, out of breath.
"The Chinese launched a torpedo," I answered, well, I kind of screamed it in terror.
”What?" His eyes went skyward.
"No, not a bomb, a torpedo." 
His eyes went wide, as he offered a hand to get up.
“Was that a news report?” He looked at the headphones sitting lopsided on my head.
“No, here," I held up the headphones. “They just shot a torpedo at the USS Cheyenne.”
“Is that one of your audio books?” He looked at me, then at the poor broken tractor.
“With real sound effects.” I nodded, sniffing some of the blood back up my nose. 
“Honey, let’s get you out of the heat, have some water, and maybe put some ice on your nose.” Again, he stared at the tractor.  
I growled and pinched my nose to stop the bleeding, cussing Tom Clancy under my breath.

Now, you might think that was an isolated incident, oh, no, not in my life. A few days later I was happily driving to the local grocery and……..oh, that is so another story. 

PSA - Audio books are dangerous.
(post originally appeared 7/11/19 in Word Play with Kristine Raymond)

Jocie worked at several jobs before landing her ideal one as a
Jocie McKade
librarian, a perfect segue to becoming an author. 

With a soft spot for U.S. Veterans, she chaired her local Veteran's Oral History Project, and her work with the program lead to her speaking before the project committee at the U.S. Library of Congress. She has won several awards for her non-fiction writing on a multitude of subjects. 

Her fiction writing has received the Author / Ambassador at Library Journal Self-e Authors, Winner Queen of the West Reader Favorite Award, Amazon Bestseller - Historical, Double finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the Mystery and Humorous Categories, and her novel Baer Truth received 4.5 stars from RT Book Reviews.

Writing romantic comedy and humorous cozy fiction, Jocie can find humor in most everything. She lives in the Midwest on Dust Bunny Farm with her family and Diesel the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she grows ArnoldSwartzaWeeds in her garden and camps whenever the opportunity presents itself. You can contact Jocie by clicking on the links below.


Meet Our Members ~ Joanne Jaytanie

Joanne Jaytanie

Author and co-founder of Originality by Design, Joanne lives in the Pacific NW with her husband and new doberman puppy, Mazie.  To view Joanne's books and learn more about her, please click HERE

Scent as a Writing Prompt ~ Jacquolyn McMurray

On Friday, I attempted to watch a webinar about marketing and promotion.  It was a three-hour class and I was quite certain I wouldn't be able to sit still for that long.  Since it was a replay (I'd missed the live webinar), I decided I should clean my desk as I listened.  I could wipe shelves and easily sort papers into two piles, right? 


Midway into cleaning.

To decide what I wanted to keep and what should go to the discard pile, I needed to read some journal entries, reread various conference notes, label some new file folders, and ...well, you get the picture.  The marketing webinar soon took a back seat to exploring years of notations, ideas, and false starts.

Part of what I read were notebook entries from last December when my local writing group decided to try our hand at teaching new writers how to "Jump Start" their writing.  We began with a couple of writing prompts from Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind, then we wrote using smell as a stimuli. 

Did you know that smell tends to jog memories and stir emotions more than our other senses? 

Photo by Silviu Bocan on Unsplash
I remember the first time I did this writing exercise.  I was in a beginning writer class and the instructor lit a cigar and passed it around the table. One of the older women left the room sobbing. The instructor picked up the woman's pen and notepad and followed her from the room.  When our twenty minute timed writing was done, the red-eyed woman rejoined the group.  We were invited, if we desired, to share a paragraph or two.  The woman volunteered and read about her cigar smoking father who had been killed in World War II. Prompted by the smell of the cigar smoke, she was able to write an agonizing story about the day she found out he was dead. 

In December, my friend set out a variety of aromatic products to choose from. I chose lemon scented furniture polish. 

Somehow, through the magic of letting go and just writing, I discovered some things that I think will help me with my current WIP.

I wrote in poetry format.  Here’s a couple of lines from my wild mind, timed writing.

Dust particles cluster
and hide under couches,
crouch under chairs,
and taunt me when I pass.

Like old hurts,
I allow them to stay, undisturbed
and embrace the lessons they offer.

For me, rereading this was powerful because the heroine of my current WIP has suffered great personal losses and she needs to find her way to a new normal.  Who knew the scent of furniture polish could prompt me to explore her past hurts and how she can come to terms with them? 

Goldberg teaches us to kick out our internal editor, choose a place and time with no distractions, and keep the pen moving. No computers allowed because typing uses a different part of your brain. Twenty minute sprints tend to be quite telling.

I’m sure there are lots of aromas that remind you of something. Sometimes the memories are fleeting thoughts, lost in the next moment. For example, the scent of roses reminds me of my mother. But I have to wonder what I might discover if I smelled roses, shut out everything else, and just wrote with no preconceived plan. 

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash
If you're a writer, and you are stuck, try a free write based on a scent and see if a snippet of truth emerges. 

And my desk?  After six hours I finished cleaning and am ready to put those notations to work for my heroine.

To the Ruins ~ by Tara Neilson

The cannery in its heydey, painted by George Tsutakawa/1930s
Every day as a child was an adventure for me and my four siblings as we lived in the burned ruins of a remote Alaskan cannery. Some days had more adventure in them than others. Mail day was a day that promised parent-free adventure.
Our mail arrived at a nearby fishing village by floatplane once a week, weather permitting. We only lived seven miles of water away from the village—there were no roads, or even trails—but the route was hazardous, even deadly, because of the mercurial nature of our weather. What had been glassy water an hour before as we made the trip in a thirteen foot open Boston Whaler could turn into a maelstrom of seething white water only an hour later to catch us on the return trip.

Tides, weather forecasts, and local signs had to be carefully calculated before the trip could be made. So, it sometimes happened that we would miss several mail days in a row and get three weeks’ worth of mail all at once. My parents usually made the trip by themselves, leaving us kids behind in our floathouse home. (A regular wood frame house resting on a raft of logs.)

Our sense of adventure, always present since our family comprised the entire population of humans for miles in any direction, quadrupled as we waved good-bye to them. We watched them turn into a speck out on the broad bay with the mountain ranges of vast Prince of Wales Island providing a breathtaking backdrop for them.

Then we cut loose. We ran around the beaches, jumping into piles of salt-sticky seaweed and yelling at the top of our lungs, the dogs chasing us and barking joyously. We tended to do this every day, but this was different. We lived in an untamed wilderness that could kill full grown adults in a multitude of ways and we children had it all to ourselves.

At our backs was the mysterious forest that climbed to a 3,000 foot high mountain that looked like a man lying on his back staring up at the sky that we called “The Old Man.” In front of us was the expanse of unpredictable water with no traffic on it, except for the humpback whales, sea lions, and water fowl.
And we were the only humans to be seen in all of it.

As we scattered, my littlest brother, Chris, wound up with me in our twelve-foot, aluminum rowing skiff. I was twelve and he was seven, and we were buckled up in our protective, bright orange lifejackets that we never went anywhere without.

“Where shall we go, Sir Christopher?” I asked in a faux British voice as I sat in the middle seat with an oar on either side of me. “Your wish is my command.”

Me (with my baby doll) and my youngest brother Chris
with pilings from the old cannery in the background
He sat in the stern seat and chortled. Whereas I was blonde and blue-eyed, he had almost black hair and green-flecked brown eyes. Despite the surface differences, we had a lot in common, being the most accommodating and easygoing ones in our family. We usually let others take the lead, but this time we would make our own adventure.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Where do you want to go?”

I looked around. The floathouse sat above a small stream below the forest, its float logs dry, since the tide was halfway out. Opposite it was a smaller floathouse we called the wanigan that we used to go to school in, before our dad built a school for us on land, but was now the washhouse.

The small, sheltered cove suddenly felt restrictive since it was the only part of the old cannery we saw on a regular basis, and there wasn’t much of the old cannery to see, just some pilings sticking half out of the water.

“Let’s go to the ruins,” I said.

He gazed at me raptly. The main cannery site had been built next to the large salmon creek and sat on the other side of a high-ridged peninsula from the little bay our floathouse was in. We rarely got to visit it, even as close as it was, because the salmon creek was where the bears roamed. But we would be safe in the skiff, I told him.

Chris bounced on his seat and nodded excitedly.

I dug the oars into the silky green water and we headed for the big rock that partially protected our little cove from the storm-prone bay. Mom had made it a law that we were never to get out of sight of the floathouse, but Mom wasn’t there.

So, for the first time I dipped the oars in unexplored waters, rowing past the weathered grave marker of some unknown cannery resident. Tall black bluffs loomed up at the same time a swell rocked us. There was nowhere to beach the skiff now, if we needed to…we were committed to continue.

Chris gripped the aluminum seat and stared at me, silently asking if we were really going to do this. I nodded.

Each pull of the oars took us farther away from the homey familiarity of the floathouse and its confined bay. We were exposed to the full effect of the wilderness now, the enormous sky above, impenetrable, towering bluffs washed by waves to our right, and the endless waterways of Southeast Alaska on our left.

My back was to the view ahead of us as I rowed. I was getting tired, but I didn’t want to admit it to my little brother. Suddenly Chris sat up straight on his seat and pointed. “Look!”

I turned my head. Up on the rocky bluffs just ahead of us was a huge steel cylinder with a peaked roof. Its original, unpainted grey could be seen through the rust of untended decades. It had sat sentinel there, below the tall mountain, with few humans visiting it or seeing it since the cannery burned shortly after World War II.

Awed, we stared at it, and then I turned to the oars with renewed energy. I kept throwing glances over my shoulder. I didn’t want to miss the first glimpse of the ruins.

And then there it was, the old cannery site.

A forest of fire-scorched pilings, one with a stunted tree growing on it, stood between the forest and the bay. The blackened timbers of a building’s foundations remained below the evergreens’ skirts and giant concrete blocks stood out whitely above the rust colored beach. In amidst the pilings were strange, rusty skeletons of former machinery. The creek rumbled past all of it.

“It looks like it was bombed,” Chris piped up. “Like an atom bomb
The cannery ruins
was dropped on it." 

“It does.” I tried to picture what it would have looked like when it was whole and people lived and worked at this remote location. The buildings, like all the canneries in Alaska, would have been barn red with white trim, glowing in the water-reflected light. The sound of machinery would have competed with the constant rumble of the creek and men and boats would have been working above and around the pilings of the wharf as clouds of shrieking gulls filled the air.

“If we could time travel,” I said, “we could step into their world when the cannery first operated and watch the fish being packed into cases to be sent out into a world that didn’t know atom bombs could exist.”

I didn’t try to row us closer and Chris didn’t suggest getting out on shore. We could see big, dark moving things in the creek that we knew were bears. I didn’t want to draw their attention because, although I didn’t mention it to Chris, I knew they were powerful swimmers and could probably overtake us if they’d wanted to.

We sat in the small skiff with the water lapping against the aluminum sides, rocking in the swell, and gazed at the ruins of a former world, gone long before we were born.

Then I turned the skiff around and we headed for home, promising each other we wouldn’t tell anyone about this adventure. This one was just ours.

Tara Neilson arrived in SE Alaska when she was six, the second oldest of five kids. Her father was a logger and fisherman and towed their float-house home from one location to the next before finally settling in the isolated ruins of a burned cannery. They were the only humans for miles. 

As an adult Tara has held down a multitude of jobs from cook on a wilderness guide boat, wilderness lodge fish packer, assistant at an art gallery, teacher's aide at a one room school and has written for a range of publications. Her memoir Raised in Ruins releases in April 2020.


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