Sagging Middle At The Ranch Pen

IMG_2512 (1)

Sometimes in museums that showcase art, they will re-create the studio of a painter, sculptor, or writer and I always find those displays fascinating. I have no grandiose ideas that my studio might be re-created in a museum, but for anyone who’s interested…here y’go. Danni’s writing/art studio in living color. I’m gonna assume all countrified writers with a rabbit problem work with a rifle in easy reach. (Those rabbits! I’m not kidding. They have taken over the place.)

Today is just a quick update on where I am with the third book in the Love Is Not Enough series, which is titled Runs Alone Girl.

A little over a year ago, I had the startling revelation that the third book in my series is like the difficulties of bringing forth my third kid, (read the post here) but I was optimistic, hoping to finish the book that year.

Never mind, just kidding.

Back when I started writing this series, it wasn’t a series. It was one ginormous book. This book would lay Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the shade for weight and wordiness. If printed out, this book would’ve held it’s own against Obamacare’s reams of pages nobody wants to read.

Which reminds me of a joke.

Ol’ ranch gal to librarian: I’m lookin’ for a good book to read. Can you recommend one?

Librarian: Do you want something light, or heavy?

Ranch gal: Either way. I’ve got my pickup with me.

So, anyhow, to get a handle on this massive tome, I took an online class taught by the world’s greatest writing mentor, Terri Valentine. She gently told me I might have aholt of a lot bigger project than I thought I did, and she started helping me bust down the original book into a series.

People who write novels often hit what they call the “sagging middle”. The sagging middle is where the author basically flounders around for half the book with no direction and it’s SO BORING.

Reader, a few pages into saggy middle: “Are you kidding me? Did this author start taking stupid pills, or what? I’m not reading this junk, I need to wash my hair.”

Originally, Runs Alone Girl was the saggy middle of my massive book. Not only that, it centers on my character Annie, the Navajo girl. While I love Annie very much, she is emotionally frozen, stiff as a board, intensely personal, and an observer of life who doesn’t like to talk. Many of her scenes are written with her barely saying anything, or nothing at all. If you know anyone like that, you know how hard it is to interact with them and it’s just like that writing about them, too.

However, there isn’t anything more disappointing to me as a reader than an author who gets in a rush and starts cutting corners, so I’m going to put in the time to do Runs Alone Girl justice. I’m about 80% finished, and God willing I’ll be ready to release it later in the year. As they say, there’s light at the end of the tunnel…I hope it ain’t a train.

Thanks so much for reading. Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy Rend Collective singing You Are My Vision.

Rough Drafts At The Ranch Pen

 

by EK Johnson

by EK Johnson

Danni whacking out a rough draft

There is an event for writers each November called NaNoWriMo  in which participants on Nov. 1, begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. I had planned to try that last November, but a drunk driver crashed into my son’s pickup at 85 mph+, disrupting many plans. (If you know anyone who drives drunk, do whatever it takes to stop them–the lives they ruin may be more than just their own.)

At any rate, nearly a year has passed and I’m gearing up to try NaNo again. My plan is to whack out the rough draft of the sequel to Agnes Campbell’s Hat while continuing to work on the third book in the Love Is Not Enough Series and do a bunch of other stuff, too.

Agnes Campbell’s Hat is aimed at younger readers who read books in the 35,000 word range, so depending on how the drafting process goes, I may not need to write the entire 50,000 words.

Unfortunately, I’m not hopeful. My rough drafts usually go something like this:

Melba runs into the tootntotem store. Harold I think I just saw that guy with the gun (the small mustachioed man with the orange hat?)

Harold is at chip display (pork rinds?) sullen look.

Why are you just standing there, Harold? Chop, chop. (is she trying to figure out why Harold’s mad? Argument over cracked iPhone screen again? Losing the dog?) (Look up what kind of dog from last book) What’s your problem Harold? Did u not sleep again?

Not after you dug your toe into my shin at three o’clock.

Melba stares. What’s he talking about?

You  woke me up doin’ this–Harold makes grinding toe motion–on my leg. Figured I was breathin on you or something. only got two or three minutes sleep after that.

Melba: Dug into you with my toe? (Is he kidding? The guy with toenails like daggers?)  I know nothing of this so called toe incident, Harold. Do you seriously think I wouldn’t just–makes jabbing elbow motion–and tell you to quit breathing on me?

Harold scowls? You got up and went to the bathroom after that.

Well, the clues are really falling into place, now, Harold. sarcastic You know what this reminds me of? That time I was talking in my sleep*–Melba looks over his shoulder at small guy holding gun coming out bathroom? Harold duck, she yells

Then the poison dart hits her in the forehead? Harold thinks, serves her right now she knows how I feel after toe incident?

What if the gunman rips off his hat and he’s a woman with a mustache? Real? fake? Harold suddenly remembers a recurring nightmare about a man with a little mustache? His mother? Did they think she died a long time ago from the freak farm accident? begins to suspect he was adopted?

What does Harold actually need in scene? Resolution from pain of his past? New cell phone so he catches podcast about missing mob boss for next chapter? Just pork rinds? 

And, on and on.

*Parts of Harold and Melba’s conversation may, or may not, have actually occurred one morning before breakfast. Some names may have been changed to protect the guilty.

I might not have many brain cells left for blogging in November, but we’ll see how it goes. As always, thank you so much for reading what I write. Until next time, God bless all y’all and enjoy Phillips, Craig & Dean doing You Are God Alone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRxae6mLvB4

Writing Humor When Life Ain’t Funny At The Ranch Pen

800px-Baling_twine,_blue_and_red_1

image via somewhere on the internet

 

Anyone with a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous can usually find something amusing about most any situation, but there comes a point when life just ain’t funny. As a writer, I’ve been warily circling the big, snarled up ball of twine in the middle of my metaphorical writing room, looking for the string to pull that will allow me to write something about some subject. Anything. Forget amusing, I’d settle for coherent. Finally, I began pulling strings.

String A? No.

B? Blah.

C? Meh.

D? Good grief. The worst yet.

  • danger
  • death
  • dementia
  • depression
  • despair
  • diarrhea
  • disappointment
  • disaster
  • doldrums
  • dopes
  • drunk drivers

I was on the verge of giving up again until I reached this one:

  • dumb dogs

At last! The right string after all.

Nellie, the happy extrovert

Gramps and I have a border collie named Nellie. Border Collies are typically livestock herding dogs, not bird dogs. She’s beautiful and we love her, but she is handicapped by hyperactivity.  Nellie is confined to our yard by a Pet Safe electronic collar that sends a wireless shock if she gets too close to the road. The collar has saved her life approximately twenty-three-million times, now, because Nellie loves to chase. She can’t be trusted with livestock, so she spends every waking moment chasing: motorized vehicles which she can’t catch because of her collar, the cat, grandkids, toads in the summertime, and birds. Mostly, birds. If she had the choice of a nice, juicy steak bone, or bird chasing, she would choose the birds.

Nellie’s obsession with birds causes her to go deaf so she still has to be kept on a leash when I take her out of her electronic circle. If I turn her loose, she races after birds and pays no attention to me calling her back even when I have a pocketful of meat as incentive to return. Bear in mind we are surrounded by miles and miles of wheat fields. She could run for a long time following birds as they lured her farther and farther away like the ruthless Pied Pipers they are.

Anyway, the other day while walking, some madness seized me and I let her off the leash. We practiced her commands for a while. Everything was great.

Then the flock of meadowlarks.

With single-minded zeal she dedicated her life to catching those birds. I don’t have a loud voice, and no matter how I shrieked, howled, or whistled, she ignored me. Anyone who has ever had a dog that won’t come on command knows how severely annoying that is.

Finally, she must have sensed it was good I wasn’t packing a gun and she headed back. I told her, “Good girl, good Nellie,” and so forth as reward for her reluctant obedience, but then she saw another bird and took off. I’d had it.

“Stop!” I roared. The force of my command pulled me up on my tiptoes and then rocked me back on my heels. A shower of spit sprayed all around.

Nellie stopped dead and looked at me like I was having a psychotic episode. Then she waggled over so I could snap on her leash. I stared at her, thunderstruck. All these months I had apparently been too nice with my calm, quiet commands.

We walked home with me periodically bellowing, “Stop!” And she did, looking at me like, “Geez. All right, just calm down.” I got the giggles.  How ridiculous we must’ve appeared from a birds’ eye view.

An FYI: I learned that the command has to be clipped, with particular emphasis on the P. The spit pattern has to be just right. (Remember, that particular command–if done correctly–is really a bummer when the wind is strong and in your face, so brush your teeth beforehand and use mouthwash. Or, just sell your dog.)

So, until next time, God bless all y’all and if you write humor and your life ain’t funny, just start trying to find the string that’ll pull out of the snarl and make you laugh. It’s there if you look hard enough. Nellie hopes you enjoy her favorite song, Chasing Cars.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GemKqzILV4w

*This artist doesn’t necessarily endorse Nellie’s behavior, she just loves this song.

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.

 

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.