Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part lV

Buzzard and Bugs Bunny Cartoon


Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly

~Langston Hughes

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

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.

If you got this far, thank you so much for reading. God bless all y’all and enjoy the Cathedrals singing Sinner Saved By Grace. I love this song and I love the Cathedrals…and I hope you will, too.

*Thank you, Terri, for allowing me to mention you on my blog.
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Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part lll

Buzzard and Bugs Bunny Cartoon


Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Langston Hughes

(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.)


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…

If you’ve stayed with me this far, thank you. In case you’re bored to death, I refer you to the Starburst commercial in Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part l.

Until the next installment in this fascinating series, God bless all y’all and enjoy a very young Allison Kraus and Union Station doin’ Heaven’s Bright Shore.

*Also, the boys didn’t wet their beds very often. I was pretty efficient with waste management. All those animals, you see…

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Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part l

Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part ll

Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part ll

Buzzard and Bugs Bunny Cartoon


Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Langston Hughes

For those of you who might have missed the riveting previous installment of Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams, here’s the link. Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part l Be sure and watch the Starburst commercial, it’s kind of disclaimer in case I start boring you to death. (Or boring you back to death, as the case may be. I’m not sure who or what all reads these posts.)

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.

Photo by KatieMoyle
Ah, experience. So needful for good writing.

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.

Live a real life

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…

Finally, I’m not qualified to give writing instruction, but this is my advice to anyone who desires to write:

  • Read voraciously.
  • Get out there and live a real life. Live a life you don’t need to be ashamed of when you’re dyin’, but take chances. Do things. Don’t live a virtual reality through your electronics else you might not have much to write about. We’ve all got electronics. None of us have your particular experiences.
  • Consider homeschooling your kids. By the time you complete each grade four times, or fifteen–depending on the number of offspring–you will have a good grasp of the english language. That helps with the grammar and sentence structure. As you can see. By my sentence fragments.
  • And last, but not least, learn to laugh at yourself first. If you don’t, somebody’ll beat you to it.

Anyway, if you got this far, God bless you for your endurance and now just sit back and enjoy The Isaacs doin’ The Lowest Valley.

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

*A special thanks to Son #2 for the heads up on James Wesley‘s super good song and video.

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Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part l

Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part lll

Broken Winged Buzzard Dreams Part l

Buzzard and Bugs Bunny Cartoon


Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Langston Hughes

Okay, so the poster in my eighth grade english class portrayed a seagull with wings spread, floating against an azure sky, but I still remember it, lo, these many years later.
Hmm…(clearing throat) This post about my writing dreams is not shaping up well. (I yawn.) Maybe I should go take a nap.
(I have a cold, so I blow my nose, too.)
Maybe instead of writing about my writing I should write about Gramps’ snoring again. I have plenty of material…
No. Better not. He might decide to start blogging about my…er…problems. That wouldn’t be funny.
(Several minutes pass while I look on Youtube for songs. I watch this amusing–and apt–Starburst commercial. You may need to watch it several times before the end of this post, as well.)
Well, for pity’s sake. I know there are literally ten people out there who want to know this stuff about me, so I’ll just have to dive in.
I write books and stuff down here in Southwest Oklahoma on the home place.
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 bad 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…
Well, anyway.
I’m actually in pretty good company. Have y’all ever read Margaret Mitchell‘s (author of Gone With the Wind ) first novella, Lost Laysen, written when she was a teen-ager? Or Georgette Heyer‘s first book, The Black Moth? Very high drama, indeed. Not even Rory and Kate could match it.
I’ll get back to blogging about ranch/farm life, now, but if y’all don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me over this blog post, one of these days I’ll post PART ll of my continuing writer’s journey where I salvage the broken winged buzzard of my dreams. Kinda.
Until next time, God Bless all y’all.
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