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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Me as Four Fictional Characters

Last month, one of my Facebook friends posted a challenge to come up with four fictional characters I identified with in some way. I loved the idea. Here are the ones I selected as most like me.

Jo March in the novel Little Women--Like Jo, I grew up in a financially challenged home. Jo works outside the home to help support her family. I worked at any job I could get—babysitter, tennis instructor, car hop, waitress, store clerk. Jo and I are both strong and determined; although I am better at controlling anger than she is. She spends some time in New York City. I worked there for twelve years during my thirties and forties. Jo is a writer. I am, too. It wasn't my profession, but I wish it had been. 

Jing-mei Woo (June) in The Joy Luck Club—I remember identifying with June throughout the novel, notably when her mother praises her for never taking the best quality crab. I try to respect the needs and wants of others which includes bypassing crab claws for body meat, or taking the smallest piece of cake on the plate. Like June, I was pushed to excel (at school rather than piano). My mother and Suyuan Woo were both critical mothers. Mine was especially critical when it came to socially acceptable behavior and physical appearance. I came to realize this wasn’t because she was mean, but because she wanted the best for me and my sisters. I know she loved me, and I loved her with all my heart.

Mary Richards in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”--A single woman who, at age 30, moves to Minneapolis after being jilted by her boyfriend of two years. I, a divorced woman of 30, moved to New York City after being cheated on by my husband of seven years. Mary ends up with a career in TV; whereas I worked in the apparel and cosmetics fields. Mary becomes friends with her next door neighbor in the boarding house she lives in. I became friends with one of my roommates in the New York apartment I rented. We are still friends to this day.

Anna from the movie “Frozen”--Although I am the oldest of three sisters rather than the younger of two, Anna is as devoted to her sister Elsa as I am to my sisters Karen and Susan. I am also optimistic and caring like she is and have her never-give-up attitude. I, too, was separated from my sisters for a long time, not because we had grown apart, but because I lived across the country for many years. Now we spend as much time together as we can.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nature Writing

I love writing about nature, finding ways to describe a sunset, weeds, or dirt using a combination of words I haven't seen before. That can be hard to do without reverting to "purple prose," which makes good nature writing a  challenge.

When I write a novel or short story, nature plays an important part in the setting. I may struggle with the plot or a relationship my characters are having, but I usually relax when I get to a place where I can interject a description of clouds, animals, water, trees, etc.

This summer I was asked to write a chapter on flora and fauna for a coffee table book on Lake of the Woods, Oregon to be published next year. Below is one of the paragraphs I wrote for it.

The lake itself supports a variety of waterfowl. Some nest here. Others make it a stopping point during migration. From the campgrounds, resort, or lakeshore you can watch an osprey, similar in size yet whiter than an eagle, fold its wings, dive into the water feet first, and come up with a fish. Also seen on or near the water are great blue herons, Canada geese, grebes, buffleheads, and sandhill cranes. Occasionally a flock of American white pelicans will land on the lake. How delightful it is to watch these snowy birds with huge beaks and nine-foot wing spans soar through the air with the grace of birds half their size!

In 2011 I won a prize for a nature essay on tumbleweeds. Here is an excerpt.

Upwind from the road, a lone tumbleweed about the size of a bear cub bounded across the scant vegetation and over the crest of a gentle rise where it paused for a few seconds before leaping into the air and bouncing across the road. Strong-limbed, and with a few seeds left to sow, the tumbleweed rolled up the ditch bank into the waiting arms of a cluster of weeds with similar heritage, weeds stacked three feet deep against a barbed wire fence that shadowed the road as far as the eye could see. The thick pile of weeds made for a soft landing, but the thorny arms therein refused to let go, and the hapless tumbleweed’s gypsy days were over.

The story in my novel Brute Heart takes place in several natural settings. Most are in eastern Oregon. The one below describes a forest west of the Cascades.

The thick tangle of evergreen and deciduous trees embraced every imaginable shade of green, from the green-black undersides of the fir boughs to the chartreuse velvet moss that wrapped around the tree trunks and clung to the tops of rocks in the streambed. Vine maples, with sleeves of new green foliage, stretched across the rapidly moving water, their arms so long they sometimes entwined with limbs from the opposite side of the stream to form a leafy canopy.

More nature writing is included in a novel to be released (I hope) this year. The story takes place in Colorado.

The plip, plip, plip of melting icicles signaled the beginning of what amounted to spring in Ophir Loop. A misty rain, hard to distinguish from low clouds, hovered over the gorge once or twice a week. Snow was still being measured in feet above the timberline, but bursts of wild green dusted the slopes. The creeks had begun gurgling again, and the pussy willows growing along their banks were silver with catkins.

Every once in a while something on Facebook resonates with me, and I save it for future use. How appropriate this one is for a post on nature writing! 


Monday, August 8, 2016

Missing Mom

I have been without a mother for six months now. Yesterday, August 7, would have been her 100th birthday, and in lieu of the birthday card I sent her for decades, I wrote this poem.

August 7, 2016

You left six months ago.
I think about you every time I
look in the mirror,
put on your pink earrings,
use your measuring spoons,
wear the jacket you asked me to wear.

I planted a tree in your memory
(more twig than tree)
and named it Elsie.
Frozen, baked, and hailed on,
it has six new leaves.
I named it well.

Sometimes I sense your presence
in the enigmatic eyes of my cat,
or while walking along the canal
where you used to walk,
or when the topmost branch of a juniper
waves when there isn't a hint of breeze.

Today is your one hundredth birthday, Mom.
Are there birthday parties in Heaven?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Irish Inspiration

My husband and I spent ten days touring Ireland earlier this month. We covered much of the larger half of the country, but did not make it to Belfast. I came back to Oregon with a better understanding of how the country’s natural beauty coupled with its history inspired many of its authors and poets.

I have always been amazed at how such a small country could produce so many noted writers: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Sean O’Casey, for example. After motoring through the gorgeous green countryside and learning about the hardships the Irish people have endured over the centuries, the inspiration to wax poetic (Yeats) or write ironic prose (Jonathan Swift) became obvious.

Rebellions and revolutions shape much of the Irish psyche. We toured Kilmainham Prison in Dublin where many involved in the 1916 Easter Rising were housed before being executed in the prison’s yard. Built in 1796, the prison’s cold, dark walls seemed to echo the misery of the prisoners housed in its bleak cells.
We also visited Glasnevin Cemetery where Michael Collins, revered leader of the struggle for Irish independence, is buried. The 1996 movie, Michael Collins, starring Liam Leeson was one of the options offered by Aer Lingus on the flight over and back. Dick and I both watched it, giving us additional insight into the turmoil that took place in Ireland during the early twentieth century. There was brutality on both the British and Irish sides of that conflict.

It’s the civilians that suffer, when there’s an ambush they don’t know where to run. Shot in the back to save the British Empire. Shot in the breast to save the soul of Ireland. I believe in the freedom of Ireland and that England has no right to be here, but I draw the line when I hear the gunmen blowing about dying for the people when it’s the people that are dying for the gunmen. Sean O’Casey
The Irish people had to work hard, eking out a living on stony glacial moraines. For centuries few owned the land they worked, and when the potato famine hit in the 1840’s, it was the poor farmers who starved. Those who were able to flee crowded onto small ships headed for America. We toured a replica of one of those boats and viewed the cramped steerage where over one hundred emigrants were packed. With a 20% date rate common during Atlantic crossings, the boats came to be called “coffin ships.”

           “Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
            For I would ride with you upon the wind
            Run on the top of the disheveled tide,
            And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
                                                            W.B. Yeats
On the brighter side, the countryside is green and gorgeous, peppered with sheep and small, well-tended farms. Flowers and trees thrive in the rainy climate, and every farm seems to have a garden. The whole of it creates a picture perfect landscape.
“The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” George Bernard Shaw

Our tour guide asked us to write limericks since the city of Limerick was part of our tour. Mine went like this:
           “We gathered from far and wide
            In Ireland to abide.
            We learned about Guinness,
            And soon it was in us
            For a rollikin’, cracky ride.”
                                    Ginger Dehlinger

What tripe compared to the Irish writers, but fun. J

Kilmainham Prison

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


During my last critique group meeting, one of my fellow writers had written a beautiful paragraph that some of us thought wasn’t right for the piece he submitted. I told him to save what he had written. That it might work better in a future story.

This prompted a lively discussion of “out-takes,” some members of our group saying they simply deleted unwanted copy, others saying they kept a file of temporarily unusable verbiage but rarely referred to it.
I keep an out-take file for every major piece I am writing, and I do check them from time to time, especially when I experience a serious case of writer’s block. On a few occasions I found exactly what I needed. Many times I wasn’t able to use what I had saved, but reading what I had written stimulated my brain, leading me to write something that did fit. Other times I left empty-handed.

We writers often fall in love with what we write and don’t want to let it fall victim to the delete key. I have been guilty of wasting precious time, trying to find a place for something I thought was “brilliant.” J My out-take files allow me to save these little gems, writing which I may read later and ask myself, “What was I thinking?”
My advice is don't force feed your writing. You probably will change a lot of things before you are finished, and trying to work your story around a favorite paragraph or two can kill your progress.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Motherless Mother's Day

The Friday before Mother's Day I was standing in line at my favorite supermarket, surrounded by reminders of what was being celebrated Sunday. A huge display of potted plants--orchids, mini roses, African violets, and some I couldn't name--was off to my right. On my left, a store employee was dipping strawberries in white or dark chocolate, covering them with candy sprinkles, and then carefully inserting the elegant treats into clear plastic clamshells.

In front and in back of me, every shopping cart displayed some sign of motherly affection. One cart held a fluffy pink teddy bear, and every person shopping either had a card in their hand or one in their basket.

I watched a woman debating over which plant to buy for her mother. She was turning each one over to read the price on the bottom. Finally she picked a small, green, non-flowering plant, and I wanted to tell her to put it back and take the pretty one. "You are lucky to have a mother," I wanted to say. "Spoil her as long as you can."

My own mother died in February, and I am still getting over it. Below is a poem I wrote about our weekly phone conversations, and wouldn't you just know it?--Mother's Day always falls on a Sunday.

Sunday Mornings
It’s Sunday.
I make waffles,
do a little writing,
take my daily two-mile walk,
wash a load of clothes.

Every Sunday morning
for thirty-six years
I called my mother
at ten o’clock.
We talked for an hour or more.

“What’s that noise?”
she would ask.
“I can hear you doing something.”
“I know, Mom,” I’d say to her
as I unloaded the dishwasher.

Every Sunday morning
I used to hurry through my work,
marking things off my list,
hoping to finish by ten.
I never made it.

Sometimes Mom heard cars
passing by while I walked and talked.
“I’m on my walk,” I’d explain.
“I’m taking you with me.”
“Good,” she’d say. “I need the exercise.”

Now every Sunday morning,
I chalk off my chores until ten.
Then there’s a hole in my day,
and an ache in my heart,
because she’s gone.

Ginger Dehlinger
March 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

For My Mother

Below is a poem I read during my mother's graveside service. This beautiful poem written by Shannon Walker perfectly expresses how I feel about my own mother.

Although You're Gone
Although you're gone, I'm not alone,
And never shall I be,
For the precious memories of the bond we shared
Will never depart from me.

Our love surpassed the ups and downs
And helped us along the way,
And that same love will give me strength
To manage this loss each day.

On my mind and in my heart,
Mom, you’ll forever be,
For as much as I am a part of you,
You are a part of me!
© Shannon Walker