New Book At The Ranch Pen

Finally, the third book in my Love Is Not Enough series is out and about on Amazon! It’s available in print or ebook format. The ebook version is also available through Kindle Unlimited and for free sharing with family and friends with Kindles or the Kindle app which works great on iPhone or Androids.

The third book in the Love Is Not Enough Series begins with Annie DeRossi Campbell uneasily trying to establish a life with rancher’s son, Karl Campbell, as his wife instead of the reserved Navajo woman who has always run the barren ridge-lines of her life like a wild mare trying to survive. Abused and shamed by the father of her five-year-old son, Annie distrusts love and is desperate to keep her past hidden from her new husband no matter the cost. When his awkward tenderness threatens to storm the barriers she has built around her heart, she commits a misstep so earth-shattering it leaves Runs Alone Girl sifting through the ruins of her marriage for the truth of what love really means.

Another newlywed, cowboy and inexperienced Christian, Gil Howard, has returned from his honeymoon with Katie to the news his alcoholic father has decided to return to Colorado to die. Resentful at the past dumped in his lap and unconvinced of his father’s stumbling efforts to return to Christ, Gil just wants his dad to keep his drama to himself. His young bride, however––raised in a sect of faith-healers, sheltered, and innocent—seems to have been taken in by his old man’s phony imitation of Apostle Paul and wants him to be his dad’s buddy. Will Gil’s faith conform to biblical truths, or will he be buried––along with his fledgling marriage—beneath the weight of the past?

Runs Alone Girl continues the story of two ranching families in the mountains of western Colorado. Gritty, realistic, politically incorrect, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it takes a look at what happens when the love, marriages, and family relationships of ordinary people with extraordinary faith are put to the test.

Runs Alone Girl is the third book in the series and is not intended as a stand alone novel, so if you want to start at the beginning, start with The Cedar Tree, Book One. (It has a new cover but no new content, so my advice as a tightwad? Don’t throw down another $.99 for another one if you’ve already got it.)

After an injury forces cowboy Gil Howard from the rodeo circuit and an accident kills his girlfriend, he seeks out his grandfather in Colorado, a rancher and minister in a sect of faith healers. Wild, restless, and angry at his alcoholic father, Gil drifts in a life suddenly foreign to him until he meets intriguing rancher’s daughter, Katie Campbell—only to find no one wants him with her, including Katie herself, who has a longstanding attachment to her childhood friend and sweetheart. When a mountain storm throws the two of them together, Gil finds himself in love for the first time and his life begins to come together in unexpected ways. Then tragedy strikes and he is left struggling to reconcile his past with his new faith and his shattered dreams. Will there ever be another message from Katie in the cedar tree?

Wailing Woman Creek is book two in the series. (Once again, book two has a new cover but no new content, so my advice as a tightwad remains the same. Don’t buy another one if you’ve already got it.)

In book two of the Love Is Not Enough Series, the unexpected death of Annie DeRossi’s grandmother—an old midwife in a sect of faith healers—leaves the grieving young Navajo woman and her small son in dire straits, forcing her choice between easy-going Colorado rancher’s son, Dave Campbell, and his straight-laced brother Karl.  She gravely underestimates the toll her marriage vows will take on the three of them and when desperate secrets are uncovered, ghosts from her past threaten to destroy the marriage almost before it has begun.

Meanwhile, Gil Howard—cowboy, financially strapped sheep rancher, and new Christian—pops the question to Katie Campbell, entering an unusual agreement with her dad in an attempt to rein in his passions even while the image of his alcoholic father taunts him with doubts he can overcome his former lifestyle. Is he running a huge bluff on Katie that will come back to bite them both if he marries her?

Gritty and realistic, Wailing Woman Creek returns the full cast of characters from The Cedar Tree, offering an authentic look at ranch life and settings as diverse as the mountains of western Colorado, the barren Navajo reservation of New Mexico, and the forests of North Carolina.

As always, God bless all y’all and thanks so much for reading what I write. Everyone runs what they read through their own experiences, but my hope is you’ll find some good stuff in Runs Alone Girl and the other books in the series.

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


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.


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 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.


Methinks He Doth Grin Too Much


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.”
   “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 It doesn’t matter if it’s any good. He might look like this:Gilwithwhiskers
Or, even like this…it’s all good:

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).


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

Navajo Stuff At The Ranch Pen


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.)


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.)


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.


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.


Navajo women weaving  in the 1930’s via wikimedia

4ac54b470c60b6c37f042d91dae31163woman spinning with Navajo spindle via

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.


*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.


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

My Mother-In-Law Has Bigger Guns Than You



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.

The Milkmaid by Adolphe Charles Marais via

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, 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.


*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.)


(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…


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.


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

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A Near Heart Attack And Gross Out Spasm At The Ranch Pen


image via wikimedia commons

Whistler’s Mother?

The second installment of how I got started writing The Cedar Tree over twenty years ago is in this post, but first, the good stuff. You are perhaps looking at the old painting above by James McNeill Whistler–entitled Whistler’s Mother–and thinking: Eh? What has that got to do with anything?

The answer is, I was practicing on my shepherd’s whistle intended for our young border collie’s future training after lunch today. That reminded Gramps of Whistler’s Mother somehow. That, in turn reminded me that Gramps had once pointed out Whistler’s mother was probably seven-feet-tall when she stood up.


But Speaking of Old Ladies

A few days ago, I was very nearly the old lady who swallowed a spider like in the poem my grandkids love:

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I don’t know why she swallowed that fly,
Perhaps she’ll die.

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wiggled, and jiggled, and tickled inside her.
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly.
But I don’t know why she swallowed that fly –
Perhaps she’ll die…

I may have come close to dying of a heart attack and a gross-out spasm, but am almost perfectly fine, now. Searching for the meaning of life in that close call, all I could come up with was maybe I should call the bug guy to come spray for spiders. (I also had the very brief thought it meant I should clean house, but that couldn’t be right.)

Hey. Maybe Those Whistles Keep Spiders Away

Well, anyway. Blowing a shepherd’s whistle is a lot harder than it looks. I blew on mine for about an hour before I could make it sound like a dying spider cat. While a clip of me blowing my whistle and Nellie sitting outside the door pawing at her ears would be very amusing, I’ve included this real dog guy doing a shepherd’s whistle demo, instead.


But Without Further Ado

So now that y’all know how to blow a shepherd’s whistle, what a farm/ranch couple talk about after dinner, and the dangers of farm/ranch life for the middle-aged–who dare not drink anything ever again without glasses on–we’ll continue from where last week’s post left off with an excerpt from a post last winter entitled Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part 2.

The Cedar Tree

We ended Part l with the unfortunate demise of my first characters, Rory and Kate. They ended up in the trash can of my writing dreams because I married Gramps when I was sixteen and barely out of diapers. (He wasn’t called Gramps then or I might not’ve had sense enough to marry him. Sixteen-year-old girls can be so shallow.)

At any rate, he was (and still is) my dashing soul mate and we happily dove off the cliff of love into the rapids of experience.

A year later, we two added a little child to make three and most of the writing I did went like this:

Dear Grandma, Thank you for the baby stroller and the twenty dollars…
Dear Electric and Gas Company, We will have the money by the end of the week, please don’t shut us off…
The rest of my writing was in the form of lesson assignments while I finished highschool in my own special ed classes. Sort of like Abe Lincoln. Without the beard. Or the super intelligence.
At eighteen, I looked forward to the birth of baby #2 and also received my diploma in the mail–probably while I was feeding my yearling son pureed carrots. He was a difficult child and I expect if I hunted up my diploma, orange blow-by would speckle the semi-expensive paper.

A couple years after that, I wrote my name on a line with Gramps’ and we bought our first little mountain rancho, ten acres and a house from which sheep had been evicted. Son #3 promptly made his appearance. A few months later, I rocked my twenty-first birthday with my three little kids–aged three and under–aided by koolaid and party hats.

All that while, I did almost no writing, but Gramps and I lived a real life while we traveled around and he made money to pay for our rancho. And while I tried to keep my babies and toddlers from self-destruction, I read.

I inhaled books like air, reading most genres except horror–although the book Treblinka about the Nazi death camp certainly qualifies–and cereal boxes. I read my Bible whenever I got a quiet minute. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot while rocking a baby in Colorado. Ernest Hemingway’s  For whom the Bell Tolls while rocking a baby in North Carolina. I even slogged through Tolstoy’s War and Peace a few hours at a time from a curb beside a playground in Illinois.

And, unbeknownst even to myself, my next characters had begun to stir in the womb of my brains…

As always, thanks so much for reading, and please take this short quiz. (Old homeschool teachers grade on a curve, so you’ll likely pass. )

  1. How tall do you think Whistler’s Mother is, judging by the length of her thigh bones?
  2. Do you think–judging from Whistler’s Mother’s expression–she has swallowed a fly?
  3. Judging from Whistler’s Mother’s expression, do you think Whistler’s Mother wishes:
  • A. Whistler would just hurry up so she can get back to practicing her shepherd’s whistle commands?
  • B. Whistler would at least bring her a cup of coffee without a spider in it if he’s going to take all day with his painting?
  • Or, C. Whistler would change his original title from Arrangement in Gray and Black No.1 to something a little more flattering to her–Definitely Not Whistler’s Mother?

Until the next installment of As The Cedar Tree Burns Turns, God bless all y’all and enjoy this old clip of The Cathedrals doin’ Echoes From the Burning Bush just because I love The Cathedrals singing almost anything.

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

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It Took How Long To Pull That Out Of Your Brain?

The Cedar Tree

Below is an excerpt from Part 1 of the Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams series posted last winter which talks about how I first got started writing on The Cedar Tree, the last of many titles the manuscript wore over twenty+ years’ time.

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.
Once, I showed the first chapters of this masterpiece to my grandma, a voracious reader. She got a funny look on her face. I interpreted it as: You’re my granddaughter and I love you, but this is drivel and I don’t know quite how to tell you that.
“Well…” was what Grandma said. “Just keep working on it.”
I did for a while longer and I think it went something 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…”
I wasn’t much of a plotter and I don’t think he said that about the dreams, but y’all get the idea.
Anyway, I always sketch my characters, but at that time I probably sketched as badly as I wrote. My sketch of Kate–and I confess this to my everlasting shame–I made behind a locked door and while looking into the bathroom mirror. She looked pretty good except for I could never get that one eye to look quite right.
I imagined my sketch of Rory looked 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
Possibly, he more closely resembled Barney Fife.
Barney Fife
But the point is, I can’t check up on Rory, now, because at some point, in a fit of self-disgust, I threw him, and his story, and my dream into the trash. And I wish I hadn’t now, because that story would be like a blogging gold mine. We could have laughed hysterically for many posts…

Over the next post or two, I’ll try to continue the continuing saga of how The Cedar Tree wormed its way out of my brains and into a book cover. As the Starburst commercial in the original post illustrates, I completely understand if that bores you to death.

Until next time, thanks so much for reading and God bless all y’all while you enjoy Dailey and Vincent doin’ another of my favorites, By The Mark.

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

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