Mind Barf From The Ranch Pen

No More Mind Barf

While some people in this age of ebooks are churning out three or more books per year, Danni McGriffith Super-slow-author is not. I always think, “I should crank out more books like those prolific people do!”. Then I look at the scientific formula below (that I made up just now and metaphorically taped to my forehead) to remind myself why that ain’t a good idea.

3-4 books/year by Danni McGriffith=Mind Vomit

Or,

3-4 books/year by Danni McGriffith=Danni’s personal journal

Below I’ve included a fill-in-the-blank sample entry from my personal journal to prove my point.

Oct __

Woke up from a nightmare where I killed ___wearing only my___. Feeling mentally unhinged and prickly toward___. My___hurts. I also have a strange pain in my___. Clear skies, high south wind, 99*.

Obviously, I should confine the mind barf to the journal and the blog and write my way through my books at a snail’s pace. Which is what I am doing on the third book in my Love Is Not Enough series.

One of the main characters in this book is Annie DeRossi Campbell, an emotionally frozen young Navajo woman who is reluctantly coming unfrozen. Almost everything about her goes on beneath the surface. She’s an exhausting personality for the other characters to deal with and she’s an exhausting personality to write. However, I want her to be okay, so I’ll keep trying with her. You can read more about Annie’s origins here.

While we’re on the book topic, people have asked whether there will be a follow-up to my novel geared toward the younger set, Agnes Campbell’s Hat. I plan to write one, but have not started it yet. If only there were more hours in the day, or more and younger brain cells sparking around in the old cranium!

Finally, the first book in the Love Is Not Enough series, The Cedar Tree, was free for a few days this week. It made number two on the Amazon top 100 free books in the Western and Frontier slot and top ten in Family Sagas, so thank you very much to anyone who downloaded a copy. I really appreciate it. Remember, too, anyone with an Amazon Prime membership or Kindle Unlimited can borrow my books for free on their Kindle and if you have paid for a download, you can share it with a friend or family member on their Kindle for free, as well.

Until next time, thanks so much for reading. God Bless all y’all and enjoy David Wesley doing The Stand.

[youtube.com/watch?v=V8C2xnZUXAk]

This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse the blog, I just love his music. If you do, too, you can download it on iTunes.

 

Sunday Morning Comin’ Down At The Ranch Pen

IMG_6326Gramps on Sunday morning doing his part with the littlest grandson, Tater: staying out of the way

In the day we live in, the chaos of readying a household to attend church on Sunday morning isn’t as common as it used to be, so I’m truly blessed to share this picture of Sunday mornin’ coming down at our house.

When I was growing up in ancient Egypt there was a song called Sunday Morning Coming Down written by Kris Kristofferson (imagine how incredibly old that makes Mr Kristofferson…if he is even still alive). Anyway. The song is about an aging addict who still finds himself longing for the simplicity and goodness found in a quiet Sunday morning. Which leads me to talk about one of the characters in my Love Is Not Enough book series, Roy Howard.

First, however, let me just say that a few years back I read a book by a guy named Peter Hedges called, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I knew when I read the dedication page I’d probably like the book, because the page read:

To my mother who is not fat
and my father who is not dead

Like Peter Hedges, I’ll take the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings that my dad is an alcoholic or an addict. He is not…although he does occasionally overindulge on apple pie.

I don’t really know from whence Roy Howard sprang–an aging alcoholic with troubled relationships on every hand–except I have known a number of men like him in my lifetime. At first, his name was Ted and he was a cardboard character with the sole purpose of rubbing Gil Howard, his son, the wrong way. Twenty years passed while I was writing The Cedar Tree, however, and Ted began to protest his cardboard status. First off, he told me he hated his name and had it legally changed to Roy–which actually put a whole new spin on him in my writer’s brain. Then he began to show glimpses of a longing for something better beneath his hateful exterior. Now, he is a fully fleshed-out character with more to do than bedevil Gil’s life–although he’s still plenty good at that.

I’m always happy to answer questions about characters in the books, or about growing up in ancient Egypt next to an apple pie bakery, so just leave a comment or shoot me an email on the contact page.

Also, The Cedar Tree is free to download on Amazon.com today, and book two of the series, Wailing Woman Creek, is free today and tomorrow. *(Free promotion ended 7/12/2014)

Until next time, God bless all y’all and here is a vintage clip of Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash doing Sunday Morning Coming Down.

[youtube.com/watch?v=IRU9i9egr7A]

Methinks He Doth Grin Too Much

face-grin

The title of this post, Methinks He Doth Grin Too Much, is a Ranch Pen hijacking of Mr. Shakespeare’s line in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

Anytime an author wants to feel as though he or she has been stabbed in the eye with a sharp pencil, they head over to Amazon to read the one star reviews of their books. My book The Cedar Tree has racked up three so far with one of the reviews complaining (among other things) that the main character, Gil Howard, grins too much. Which reminds me…I haven’t written a post about any of my characters for a while and Gil will do as well as anyone.

Gil is probably my favorite character. Ladies seem to like him and–surprisingly enough–so do guys. Over the years, he morphed into a composite of many of the men in my life: unapologetically male, strong, confident and competent in his field of expertise…and sadly deficient in the romance department. He is goofy and a kidder who would almost rather take a beating than get mushy, but he has an unexpected streak of tenderness and ends up with a heart for God even though he doesn’t always do the right thing. And he is an optimist who laughs and grins a lot.

Gil has been with me a long time, longer even than my kids. He started out as a dashing fellow named Rory. Here is an excerpt from a previous post, Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams:

 I was a teen-ager when I first ventured into novel writing. My first attempt was set in the 1800’s and featured a protagonist named Rory. I forget his last name. He rode a big horse–black, I believe. His love interest was Kate and his story was full of stuff like this:
   Rory raced his freshly shod, big, black, shiny, deep chested Quarter Horse horse with four white socks and a blaze face up to the burning wooden cabin and slid to a sliding stop. He jumped off the saddle and ran quickly up to the door burning hotly, vowing to stake the devil who had done this to Kate onto an anthill of ants.
“Help, Rory, you big, strong, very good looking man, you,” Kate cried feebly from inside the burning inferno somewhere.
Oh, goodness! She was fading fast!
“Kate, darlin’!” he cried out desperately. “Hold fast to our dreams, for if you die, they’re pretty much all out the window! Darlin’! Oh, and by the way, throw the kids out to me if they’re still with us…”

 

Eventually, Rory ended up in the garbage and I didn’t do much writing for a few years. He wouldn’t stay dead, however, and finally resurrected from the ashes of his trash can as a new and better character. Rory’s dumb love interest, Kate, eventually turned into Gil’s love interest, Katie Campbell, of The Cedar Tree.

Once in a while someone will ask what is my favorite part of writing Gil. The answer is his and Katie’s snippy exchanges, hands down. This is one of my favorites from The Cedar Tree:

   Gil eyed Lance as he crossed to the door and left. The guy was hopeless. Katie was way too much firepower for him…like a .458 magnum elephant rifle against a BB gun. She’d eat him alive and he’d just stand there and let her.
   He headed down the hall. “You need a ride in the mornin’?” he asked through her closed bedroom door.
   “No,” she snapped sarcastically. “I can walk. It’s only twelve miles.”
   “Okay. Have it your way.”
   “Okay. Have fun bottle feeding all those bummers.”
   “I could feed ’em. Any moron can feed bum lambs.”
   “Perfect.”
   “While I’m feedin’ bummers, you can build the hay barn.”
   “I would, but I didn’t take building lessons from Dr. Seuss.”
   “Hey,” he said, stung. “That salvaged lumber might not look so hot, but it’s a good barn.”
   “It’s magnificent.”
   “Okay,” he said irritably, “you get on the end of a hammer tomorrow and see how it goes…”

 

(Eerily similar to some of the snippy exchanges at the Ranch Pen.)

 

Some writers sketch their characters to keep them straight in their mind’s eye, and many years ago I sketched up ol’ Rory to look like Tom Selleck. (Not old Grampa Tom Selleck like he is now, but like he was in his Magnum PI days in the last century.

Tom Selleck Magnum PI
Gil got a sketch a long time ago, too. I don’t claim to be any good at sketching, but here’s Gil as I imagined him–grinning.Gil
If any of y’all imagine him differently, whip out a sketch and send it to me at dannimcgriffith@gmail.com. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good. He might look like this:Gilwithwhiskers
Or, even like this…it’s all good:
Gilcartoon

Well, that’s all for today, but to everybody who has told me how much they like Gil, thank you very much. I like him and his stupid grin (as his love interest, Katie, calls it,) too.

Until next time, thanks for reading and God bless all y’all while you enjoy David Wesley’s new one, 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord).

[youtube.com/watch?v=tWUbgeD6pMI]

*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just love his music

Navajo Stuff At The Ranch Pen

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Photo of Navajo farms on the floor of Canyon de Chelly (duh-shay) near Chinle, Arizona taken by Gramps and me in 2012

As mentioned in last weeks’ post Characters At The Ranch Pen, I get asked about where the ideas for the characters in my stories come from. Since I find my character, Annie, one of the most interesting, we’ll begin with her.

Many years ago, Gramps was a pipeline welder and if our little boys and I wanted to see him (we did) we had to follow his work.  As a result, we lived for short periods of time near many of the major natural gas production areas of the western United States. We spent a lot of time in towns near the huge natural gas field that encompasses parts of southern Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah, and which also happens to be partly on the Navajo reservation. While beating around in Navajo country, I became one of author Tony Hillerman’s biggest fans, devouring–so to speak–all of his books about Navajo cops, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. (I still read Mr. Hillerman’s books sometimes when I am homesick for a mind-painting of that arid, beautiful country of breath-taking cloud formations and canyons.)

While in Farmington, New Mexico we usually stayed at a motel called the Anasazi Inn. At that time, the Inn had a restaurant with live piano music on certain evenings. One evening as we dined to piano music, I happened to glance across the room to where the most stunningly beautiful young Navajo woman sat eating with a man. I got the impression he was a white man, but I didn’t pay much attention to him. The young Navajo woman didn’t smile, and she barely spoke while she ate. She was tall and willowy and dressed like nearly any other white woman in the room rather than in traditional garb–loose blouse, full skirt, silver and turquoise jewelry, and wearing her hair in the traditional Navajo bun. (Many Navajo women dress that way yet.) Aside from that young woman’s beauty, nothing about her called attention, still…she was very different–remote, unreadable, and yet sad.

*Disclaimer: Bear in mind, I have a wild imagination and she might have been as happy as a clown that night. That was just my reading of her from across the room while I mopped up my boys’ spills and corrected their table manners with cries like, “Must you eat like a hog?” or, “Please remember you are not a barbarian who just came down from the mountains picking his teeth with a bone.”

Anyway, I never forgot that beautiful young lady. Eventually I named her Annie and she found her way into my book The Cedar Tree where she plays a minor character. (In subsequent tales, she assumes a role as a major character.)

IMG_0158

Toadlena, New Mexico, Trading Post–a beyond interesting old place where Navajo weavers sell their rugs, handwoven in the Two Grey Hills style. The proprietor, Mark Winters, wrote a book on the subject called, The Master Weavers, which I love. (It also weighs approximately one-hundred-pounds, so it is very useful for defense, as well.)

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Two Grey Hills Trading Post est. in 1897 is a few miles from the Toadlena post and is where my character, Annie’s, grandmother sold her handwoven rugs.

IMG_0167_2

Looking southwest from the parking lot of the Two Grey Hills Trading Post

Annie, as a Navajo woman, happened to intersect very well with my interest in sheep and wool. Navajo society has revolved around their flocks ever since the Spaniards introduced sheep to the southwestern United States several hundred years ago.

Showing_Navajo_women_weaving_one_of_the_very_large_rugs_for_which_Southern_Navajo_(Ganado_district)_Indians_are..._-_NARA_-_298594

Navajo women weaving  in the 1930’s via wikimedia

4ac54b470c60b6c37f042d91dae31163woman spinning with Navajo spindle via nationalcowboymuseum.org.

I have the greatest respect for the Navajo women who still use those long spindles to spin their rug yarn. The task is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, says Danni whose yarn spun on her Navajo spindle usually resembled some particularly dreadful dreadlocks.

So, that’s where Annie came from. I guess it remains to be seen where she’ll end up.

As always, thanks for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all, and enjoy Acappella singing Rescue, my favorite since the first time I heard these guys perform live. They’re always awesome no matter which of the fellers they’ve got singing together.

[youtube.com/watch?v=BsA8qybks1M]

*These guys don’t necessarily endorse my blog I just love ’em.

Characters At The Ranch Pen

Scan 140270001

Danni’s Finn sheep with triplets

Most writers get questioned about where the characters and ideas for their books come from and I’m no exception, so today I’ll begin a series of posts about where the characters in my novel The Cedar Tree originated.

We’ll begin with when once upon a time, a young lady nicknamed Danni brought home a couple of armloads of orphaned lambs–called bummers–from the livestock auction. She and her little sons got the bummers fixed up on the bottle, and since lambs are some of the most charming creatures in the world, Presto! Danni was entranced. She dove into the sheep business.

Soon, those first bottle lambs needed shearing, so a neighbor came and did that job. Then Danni possessed a number of raw fleeces and had no idea what to do with them. There weren’t enough pounds of wool in the fleeces to be worth the effort to find a wool buyer. What should she do? Donate them to the sheep ranchers who lived a few miles away from her? Throw them away? No. She became interested in wool processing, from the sheep in the pasture all the way to the sweater, rug, or blanket. Eventually, as she learned to wash and dye wool, spin it into yarn, knit it into socks, scarves, hats, and sweaters, and even weave simple pieces on what is called a rigid heddle loom, she realized the wool from her commercial grade bum lambs was not going to suit her needs for fine woolen textiles.

She began studyin’ up on sheep breeds and settled on Finn sheep as the answer to her hand spinning needs. Not only do the Finns–which originate in…well, Finland–have amazingly soft, beautiful wool, they have litters of lambs! Most of the time the ewes have at least triplets, quadruplets are not uncommon, and they even had quintuplets a time or two.

As time passed, Danni’s flock multiplied by leaps and bounds. Fifty ewes, all of them popping out three or four lambs at a time…my goodness! She also branched out into different breeds–Shetland sheep from the Shetland Isles of Scotland and both the horned and polled Dorsets which originate in the British Isles. The Finns and Shetlands have the soft, beautiful fleeces, but they are bony, so Danni found if she crossed some Finn ewes with a mean Dorset ram she got a meatier type sheep for her family’s dining pleasure but still had a pretty nice grade of wool for hand spinning.

So, what does all that have to do with characters or anything else, you ask? Only this: Danni learned sheep from the ground up and many of the characters and settings in her stories grew out of that experience.

Return sometime next week for the continuing saga of how Annie–the beautiful young Navajo woman and shepherdess from Danni’s novel The Cedar Tree–came bursting slowly out of Danni’s brains.

Thank you for reading and God bless all y’all while you enjoy Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us from the album The Heart of Hymns. There is some advertising for the album, but it’s a good song and a cool video.

[youtube.com/watch?v=gMnXuQpc4nY]

*These artists don’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like ’em.

My Mother-In-Law Has Bigger Guns Than You

PRINT---LOVELL---TARGET-PRACTICE

via americanwildwest.com

The painting above by Tom Lovell, “Target Practice”, is one of my favorites of all time and a large reproduction hangs in my house.

Gramps and I are pro-gun (although not pro-murder) and own a number of guns, but those aren’t the kinds of guns of which I’m speaking in this continuation of the saga of how my novel The Cedar Tree came into being.

An excerpt from a post last winter, Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part 4:

At the end of my writing dreams series, Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part lll, young Danni had unwittingly embarked on a more than twenty-year novel writing journey. Gramps–still not widely known as Gramps–kept traveling around the western United States natural gas fields working for wages with his sweet pipelining skills. Danni just worked, and the sons finally outgrew their potty chairs and started using the yard for their bathroom most of the time while the animals on the Colorado rancho soon outnumbered humans by at least thirty-to-one.

Picking up from there, my homeschooled sons beefed up their academics with classes like Life Lessons From the Livestock Auction With Mom and Her SisterChasing and Penning Wild Cattle 101, and Learning to Ride Rough Stock for Fun and (no) Profit.

But, it was night when I really came alive, morphing into a mad typist who sat at the Smith Corona, hammering away on my novel about a Colorado ranching family. My protagonist, Gil, was a reckless cowboy, but his love interest was Kate, a tiresome young woman who wouldn’t die. Ever.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, most first novels are autobiographical in nature, and mine was no exception. How do I know?

Because Kate–and finally Katie in her final form–had big arms.

via wikigallery.org
The Milkmaid by Adolphe Charles Marais via wikigallery.org

She’d grown up milking cows by hand. And, hey, surprise…I did, too!

In my novel, Kate was older than the milkmaid above and she set her bucket underneath the cow’s udder. She’d hunker down with her cheek against the cow’s flank and get after it. Thick streams of milk rang against the metal bucket, raising a head of snowy foam. Unfortunately, the muscles of her forearms and biceps became larger and more unattractive with every squeeze-pull of the cow’s rubbery…er…handles.

Kate had something to say about her arms in every revision of my story for over twenty-years. The fact that–even though she was slightly built–she had to split the inside seams of her blouses to get her arms stuffed in them peeved her greatly. What fictional young woman would want bigger guns than all the other girls and a lot of the guys, too?

(Old people, guns is slang for biceps. I wouldn’t know except one of my favorite people in the world once said something along this line to her brother: “You’re pathetic. My mother-in-law has bigger guns than you do.”)

from Napoleon Dynamite

Kate feared she had guns like Starla’s. (above right) 

I used years of time–and bottles of white-out–while I wrote at my typewriter, trying to disguise long-ago Kate so nobody would see her as my alter-ego. As a result she came across as a boring nitwit, obsessed with her arms. Trying to distance myself from her, I told my story like a news account rather than crawling inside the characters skins and writing from their viewpoints.

Kate embarrassed me every time she tried to come out of her shell, but I had a much easier time writing Gil’s character. I could write about him for days. Still, he had to fall in love with Kate or my romantic story line just fell to pieces.

As I wrestled with that knotty problem, I went about so absent-mindedly I actually endangered the wild animal population, thus:

Our rancho was an hour away from the church we attended. One night after a Wednesday night prayer meeting, I piloted our old station wagon toward home like a rocket sled on rails with my boys buckled tightly into their seats. While I drove, I gnawed on my problematic story line. A mother raccoon unwisely led her little family in front of my speeding wheels. Son #1 yelled out a warning from the passenger seat, waking me from my fictive dream, but…too late.

My goodness, what a mess.

I fought Kate throughout the passage of time until many years later when a writer–who is also my freelance editor and gracious writing mentor, Terri Valentine–taught me how to stop writing like I was in the shower with my clothes on. One of the most helpful things she ever said to me came after I explained to her I didn’t like Kate–or Katie, as she was called by then.

“But, I love Katie,” she said, and then she gave me reasons why.

Her words stunned me. Someone actually loved Katie?

After that, I tried to stop fighting her and write about her like I loved her, too.  My twenty-year novel attempt finally came together.

The take-away from this odd tale? Aspiring novelists, try to find something to love about your characters, especially that first autobiographical one. (Even if she has large appendages and other shortcomings.) You might save years of your life…and young raccoon families.

For anyone interested, both The Cedar Tree and Agnes Campbell’s Hat are free downloads today on Amazon.com, or just click on the book cover images in the sidebar.

Thank you so much for reading. Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy another David Wesley performance of How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.

[youtube.com/watch?v=DOXnzYPMhWY]

*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like him.

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Still Writing From The Sticks

The Cedar Tree

Today, I’m just posting an excerpt in the continuing series of posts about how my novel, The Cedar Tree, sprang forth over a span of many years. If anyone has tried to download the ebook version without success, I apologize and hope that Amazon has it fixed by now.

And now the excerpt from Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part 3:

(At the end of the previous post in my Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams series, Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part ll, we left young Danni traveling all over the country with Gramps (not known as Gramps then), her three little kids, and a big stack of books. She was just living real life and gathering giant piles of experience while make-believe characters had begun to grow in her brains again.)

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(above) An almost exact replica of young Danni except she had some hair and different eye color

Our little McGriffith clan lived like nomads for about seven years, occasionally touching down at our small mountain rancho in Colorado. Once, when we landed at the rancho for a while, Son #1 took a turn around the outside of the house, carefully examining the bottom of it. Then he looked at me and asked, “Where are the wheels on this house?”

My first novel as a teenager–a wild romance featuring the dashing protagonist, Rory, and his dumb love interest, Kate–had ended up in the trashcan years before. Sometime during the time when our little clan was traveling around, however, I began to write again in journal format.

At first, embarrassed by the sheer romantic passion of my novel attempt, I kept the journal entries to the point :

Illinois, Sun. May 26–Sat June 1, 1985… $7.82  eats, 16.68  shoes, 18.50  gas, 8.00  diapers…

Gradually, the journal entries picked up somewhat:

North Carolina Coast, January 19, 1987 …We walked on the beach, found some seashells, took pictures, watched the gulls. Last night, we went and ate seafood. Son #2 puked on the floor and spilled his tea. Son #3 pooped his pants. Other than that it went off pretty smooth…

If you’ve ever hauled three little boys and their stuff from pillar to post across the United States, you know how wearying that is. Eventually, I began to stay at the rancho more while Gramps kept traveling.

The journal entries settled into a matter-of-fact rhythm:

3-2-88 Sister and I took #1 and #2 skiing yesterday. #1 skied into a tree, knocked himself out. Ended up with a big knot on his head and a skinned face. Other than that we had a real nice time…

A lot of my entries ended with–other than that we had a real nice time…

Gramps kept traveling around, working and raking in big piles of cash with which I began to stock the rancho. Cattle, horses, chickens, sheep, goats, pigs, emus, and even a lama–Laban the lama–joined the sons, all clamoring for food.

Smith Corona Portable Typewriter

My first typewriter was a model just like the one above. (I know. A dinosaur. Computers were rare to nonexistent in homes. Mine particularly.)

With our rancho an hour from town, my social interactions were limited to church attendance. The conversations at home mostly consisted of me yelling over the racket of hungry animals and this tiresome repeat with my sons: You gotta go potty? You sure? You better not potty your pants…

I hadn’t used the ol’ Smith Corona since Rory and Kate’s disastrous love affair, but who could blame me for dragging out the old beast, blowing off the dust, rolling up my sleeves, and making up conversations with myself? (And, as you can see from the other photo above, I needed to get those characters out of my brains so I could wear a normal sized hat.)

Anyway, I began a completely new novel set in the modern-day ranching country of western Colorado. (Well, 1985 Colorado, if you’re my age or older and consider that modern.) Rory had died in a trashcan fire, so I invented a new protagonist, Gil. I have no idea why I named him that. His love interest was…you’ll never guess…

Kate.

She just wouldn’t die. Or maybe she was the other Kate’s great-great grandaughter. Anyway, in the dark of night when the animals had bedded down and my boys were sleeping and wetting in their beds, I began tapping away on the old Smith Corona. I had no writing skills, no outlining skills, and no knowledge of story structure.

I also had no idea the story would turn into a family saga I’d intermittently fiddle with for over TWENTY YEARS…

Thank you so much for reading. And thanks to all of you for your kind words, emails, and reviews. I really appreciate all of you.

God bless all y’all and enjoy David Wesley doing a beautiful job on In Christ Alone.

[youtube.com/watch?v=oab9giH2cG0]

*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse my blog, I just like him.

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