Top Ranch Pen Posts Of 2014–#5

The fifth most viewed post of the year at the Ranch Pen isn’t really a post, but the About The Author page, which surprises the goodness out of me, but thank you all. I blew off the dust, updated the info, stuffed in a new picture of Gramps and me, and…Shazam! (as my sister says). Gramps doesn’t actually write any of my books, but he is an invaluable part of the process. He proofreads, gives me technical advice, drops a new laptop on me once in a while, and inspires most of the smart-mouth witty dialogue from my male characters.

For Blog

image courtesy of It’s a Sweet Life Photography

Danni and her husband, Gramps

Danni McGriffith is the author of Agnes Campbell’s Hat–a novel for middle grade and young adult readers–as well as The Cedar Tree and Wailing Woman Creek, the first two books in the Love Is Not Enough series about two ranching families set in western Colorado. She blends a lifetime of experience with farm and ranch life, humor, and her Christian worldview into the stories she writes. Presently, she is working on the third book in the Love Is Not Enough series.

Danni home-schooled her three sons for sixteen years then finally graduated the last one and retired from that endeavor. After that, she started writing in earnest, unwilling to waste all those years of english classes. Most of what she writes is  politically incorrect but realistic Christian fiction, incorporating her lifelong love of horses, farming, ranching, and the Lord Jesus. She generally writes and blogs with her tongue firmly in her cheek because her foot is taking up the rest of the space in her mouth.

Danni and Gramps have been married 33+ years. They have three grown and married sons and seven grandkids featured on the blog from time to time–Kevman, Blondie, Roper, Eisnstein, Git’R’Done, Ladybug, and the newest member, Tater.

Danni and Gramps grow wheat and forage for cattle on about 850 acres in southwestern Oklahoma. They run a cow-calf operation with 80-100 mama cows, mostly black angus. McGriffith farms are scattered here and there across a ten-mile radius, but at the home place, Danni keeps her chickens in an old school bus–one of Gramps’ harebrained great ideas. She also keeps a rotating menagerie of cats, dogs, orphan calves, and a horse or two–at present the grandkids’ Shetland pony, Frisco, and her perfect granny-horse mare, Sis, who is too fat and lazy to buck. (Danni hopes.)

Danni thanks you for your interest, and by all means, sign up for new book notifications or use the contact form below.

*********

Thank you so much for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all while you enjoy Casting Crowns singing I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.

[youtube.com/watch?v=M7670CXvPX0]

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

Writing With Death Overhanging At The Ranch Pen

Kit Carson's gravestone Taos, New Mexico

A few years ago, Gramps and I visited the graveyard in a park in Taos, New Mexico where Kit Carson and his wife, Josefina, are buried.

One of our closest neighbors died this week. Statistically speaking, one out of one people dies, so there was nothing strange in her death. At over eighty years of age, our neighbor may have lived through one of the most radical periods of change in the history of mankind. She was an old-style Okie lady–tough, opinionated, a staunch Democrat, super friendly, and big-hearted. I liked her even though we couldn’t agree on politics. For years, she manned a spot at the polling booth in a local church where she tried–not always successfully–not to voice her opinions to the voters. Last Tuesday when Gramps and I went to vote, I missed her a lot.

Maybe her death and the deaths of many of our elderly farm neighbors in the past few years–along with writing a difficult book–is what set me to thinking about a quote from the writing craft book by James Scott Bell, Revision and Self Editing. 

“A gripping plot involves the overhanging possibility of death.”

~James Scott Bell~

 

What Mr. Bell meant was the stakes have to be so high for the character that if he or she doesn’t get what they need, they will not be okay. The character doesn’t necessarily have to get what they want, but their most basic need must be met or they will die…either physically, psychologically/spiritually, or professionally.

For instance, consider physical death. Every morning I want a cup of hot tea. I think I will probably die if I don’t get it. I will do almost anything to get tea in the morning. However, if the situation is distilled to basics, it turns out the only thing I actually need is just a boring cup of water to sustain my life.

Now, I can decide water is absolutely unacceptable. I must have my greatest desire–tea. Unfortunately, I don’t want to get dressed and drive to town. Do I:

  • Throw a wall-eyed fit and make Gramps miserable so he’ll stop drinking his coffee and go buy me some tea, or do I drink some of his coffee?

Gramps won’t share his coffee, I decide on the fit. Does Gramps:

  • Lay back his ears, refuse to go to town for tea, or offer me water?

I shrilly declare I’d rather drink gasoline and die than drink a cup of water. Does Gramps:

  • Say go ahead, see if I care, or try to distract me with a glass of apple juice?

I don’t want apple juice, either. He obviously doesn’t believe me about the gas. I feel honor bound to follow through, show him he has pushed me too far this time. Do I:

  • Show him a thing or two by drinking the gasoline and end up sputtering to an inglorious stop, or ditch my ridiculous pride and have some water-based apple juice?

All those scenarios (completely fictional) (except I must have tea) are where my story lies–what I want, what I think I need, what I’ll do to get my desire, and finally, what I truly need in order to avoid shuffling off my mortal coil.

If we think about it, the same things hold true as we write the stories of our real lives, too, so while we wrestle with our mortality and make decisions about the pieces of us we want to pass through time, let’s live so the preacher doesn’t have to lie at our funeral and let’s write like there is death overhanging.

Thanks so much for reading and until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy Justin Hines and the Canadian Tenors singing Say What You Will.

[youtube.com/watch?v=5kf18ti4oug]

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

 

 

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.

 

Gone To The Dogs At The Ranch Pen

 

Nellie, ready to work on her  novel, Fifty Shades of Odor, based on the true story of a happy ranch dog

Nellie, ready to work on her novel, Fifty Shades of Odor, based on the true story of a happy ranch dog

You’ve gotta be kidding

Labor Day weekend is coming up for everybody in the USA. Many people celebrate by having a lot of fun, but out here at the Ranch Pen we mostly, well…labor. I’m pleased to say that our border collie, Nellie, has embraced that rigid work ethic and chosen an occupation–somewhat unusual for a dog, I must say–but an occupation nonetheless.

She wants to be a writer.

Google translator to the rescue

Every day that the wind doesn’t blow hair off the head, or the temperature doesn’t rise to one-hundred-degrees in the shade by 10:30 in the morning, one may usually find me on the front porch for a few hours, bleeding onto the writing program on my laptop. (Sometimes literally, but usually figuratively.)

Nellie often joins the painful process on the porch–generally after a dip in the pond. Ever helpful, she shakes cooling drops of green water over my fevered brow and laptop. Puzzled by the shrieks of rage coming out of me, aka her PLOP (pack leader/old person,) Nellie channels Google translator.

Google quickly spits out the meaning of the shrieks of rage in pig latin–a language which Nellie reads and speaks fluently: “Well done, Nellie. Do that shaking maneuver again in a few minutes, would ya?”  

Nellie wouldn’t have ever guessed that, but…whatever. Anything for her PLOP. (shakes pond water on me again.)

But Back To The Point

Anyway, this morning when I staggered out to the “office”, I found out Nellie’s secret passion to write stuff. How? Well, by clever modifications she had made to ANOTHER of my writing chairs, of course.

***Many people don’t know this, but the single greatest occupational hazard of writing is  bohonkus-falling-asleep-erosis (I’m pretty sure that’s pig latin, also). All chairs must be modified to the owner’s specifications.

Nellie has tried at least three times this summer to fix a chair to her particular body size and shape, but I have been slow on the uptake. I just thought she was shredding my chairs. How could I be so blind? It was the sign of a genius at work.

No worries, now. I get it. And with her own patriotic chair, she can work comfortably on her novel, Fifty Shades Of Odor, for minutes and minutes at a time…when her Attention Deficit Disorder isn’t bothering her.

Nellie enjoying life and one of her favorite songs, Who Let The Dogs Out

Until next time, God bless all y’all and have a great weekend. I’ll be down at Wal Mart looking for a new chair of my own…made of titanium, I guess.

[youtube.com/watch?v=9sLR0vgpeWI]

*These dogs don’t necessarily endorse the blog we just love dogs. Why else would we keep putting up with them? 

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

IMG_0225

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.)

IMG_0176

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.