Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Snow

Ah the joys of spring (unless you happen to live in Bend, Oregon) where spring is a season that arrives for a week in February, and then disappears until about May. We do see signs of it now and then, but as a whole spring takes place somewhere else. Frustrated, I wrote a poem about it.

"April Snow"

Beads of snow dust my windshield,
bounce off the hood,
scurry across the asphalt.

Where are the robins?
Five miles south of here
it was sunny.

April 2013

Friday, March 7, 2014

Must Reads for Aspiring Writers

     Over Christmas I had coffee with a friend of mine. At one point in our conversation she told me about her son who’d had more than his share of bad luck including spine surgery followed by a serious accident. In pain most of the time and unable to do many of the physical things he used to do, he was thinking about being a writer.
     I suggested he read through my blog—all the way back to when I started it forty-four posts ago. My friend then asked if there were any books about writing I could recommend to him. I knew exactly what to tell her, and the fact I could do so without hesitation made me realize I am taking this writing business more seriously than I thought.
     Neither of us had anything except a napkin to write on, so I whipped out one of my business cards and listed my three favorite writing books on the back of it. I hardly ever remember to hand out one of these little marketing tools, so I was pleased to find a use for one of them.
     Here are the books I wrote down. I have added their Amazon descriptions.

     The Elements of Style by William Strunk
     This book is intended for use in English courses in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature. It aims to give in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style. It aims to lighten the task of instructor and student by concentrating attention (in Chapters II and III) on a few essentials, the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated. The numbers of the sections may be used as references in correcting manuscript.

     On Writing by Stephen King
     “Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

     Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
     Think you've got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn't afraid to help you let it out. She'll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott's witty take on the reality of a writer's life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer's block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Short Exerpt

I am a slow writer. I revise and revise and revise what I've already written, lucky to add a paragraph or two of new text each day. It's almost like taking one step forward, two steps back, but that's how I eventually reach the end of my manuscript.

For those of you curious to know what I'm working on now, here is an excerpt from the novel I am writing. It's a story inspired by the life of my great-grandmother who moved from Philadelphia to Colorado when she was twelve years old.

As soon as Clara adjusted to her sidesaddle, she and her Aunt Lou began riding across the nameless creeks and unfenced portions of the San Luis Valley. Clara rode ahead, her dark braids bouncing against her back as she punctuated her anger with every thud of her horse’s hooves. The farther she rode, the more she appreciated the rugged beauty of the open range where Mother Nature painted breathtaking landscapes then painted over them when the seasons changed. In the spell of a freedom she’d never known she opened her arms to the assault on her senses that waited in ambush behind every tree and boulder.

From Part I,  "Cowboys and Clotheslines"
Ginger Dehlinger 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Machu Picchu Experience

The best part of my recent trip to Peru was Machu Picchu, a place I first read about as a junior in high school. With the help of scholarships I attended the University of Oregon where I majored in history and learned even more about the Inca civilization and the city in the clouds the Spaniards never found. I had done very little traveling before college, but what I learned in my Latin American history class was so fascinating I put Peru and Machu Picchu on the list of places I might like to visit someday.

It’s not easy to get there: two planes to Lima, another to Cusco, tour bus to Ollantaytambo, train to the village at the base of the mountain, and a small bus up a narrow dirt road. As our bus navigated the switchbacks (no guard rails except in the hairpin corners), we hung onto our seats and watched the raging Urubama River below us shrink to the size of a worm. Other mountains towered above us, mounds of granite that appeared to have propelled through the earth’s crust during some gigantic cataclysm.

The minute I walked through the main gate, I forgot about the journey that got me there as the panorama I’d seen many times in pictures appeared in front of me. The setting itself is stunning. The mountains surrounding Machu Picchu are massive, jungle-covered peaks draped in a mist that adds a mystical quality to the place. And then you see it. Sitting on a plateau bathed in sunlight is the remains of a city built stone by stone that once housed a thousand inhabitants. The thatch roofs are missing, and terraces meant for crops are covered in park-like grass, but the condition of the stone buildings, walkways and stairs that have existed since the fifteenth century is remarkable.

It would be easy to resort to hyperbole when describing how I felt while exploring the brilliantly constructed buildings and rugged stairs of this citadel. How should a writer or anyone explaining this place go about describing one of the world’s wonders? Words such as "great," "wonderful," "marvelous" or "amazing" don’t work for me. "Awesome," the mantra of today’s young people is trite. "Mind-blowing" or "cool" lack respect, and "surreal," another overused word, means odd or bizarre rather than wondrous. I finally settled on "magical," a word I liken to the delight I used to feel during the Christmas season or on family vacations before I entered world-weary adulthood. Yet even "magical" fails to capture the essence and mystery of Machu Picchu. I feel blessed to have seen it with my own eyes, because pictures, videos or words can’t capture its allure.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Steamboat Arabia Museum

The highlight of my trip to Kansas City, MO for the WWW conference was a trip we took to the Steamboat Arabia Museum. Being a history major and history buff, I enjoy museums in general; however the Arabia Museum is one I will never forget.

Built in 1853, the 171-foot Arabia sank in 1856. The boat was traveling up the Missouri River when a tree snag smacked into its hull and caused the boat  to sink. All of the passengers were rescued; whereas the boat itself, along with the two hundred tons of merchandise on board, sank into the mud. Over time, the boat and its contents continued to sink until it was forty-five feet below ground.

Except in somewhat vague stories, the steamboat was forgotten until 1988 when a group of men heard about the possibility of a sunken steamboat and decided to hunt for treasure. The Missouri River had changed course many times during the intervening years, but with the cooperation of a farmer who had heard about the riverboat's demise, the five men discovered its final resting place in the middle of a cornfield.

Using bulldozers, generators and a huge pump that extracted water twenty-four hours a day for months, the men finally found a few pieces of the boat. Then came the real treasures: barrels of English china, bolts of wool fabric, leather shoes and boots in many sizes, tools, farm implements, champagne still slightly bubbly, jars of pickles still edible, coffee beans from South America, perfume from France.

After painstakingly cleaning everything, the men decided to share their treasure with the rest of the world by building a museum to house what they found. I was totally awed by the quantity and quality of the merchandise on display.

It was like walking through a Wal-Mart that was doing business before the Civil War.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Women Writing the West

My short story, “The Embroidered Sheets,” received an Honorable Mention certificate at the Women Writing the West conference held in Kansas City, MO this past weekend. My disappointment at not placing first, second or third was quickly replaced with gratitude for the detailed letter I received from the judge. In it she praised my story and writing style and then explained why my story fell short in its structure. Since I had taken excerpts from my novel-in-progress and turned it into what I thought made a good short story, the resulting hybrid suffered pacing problems and a dramatic arc better suited to a longer piece. I hope to write short stories rather than novels some day, so this was excellent advice.

That said, I truly enjoyed the 2013 WWW conference. I met some fun and fabulous women and learned much about writing that I can use in my work. For those interested in learning more about Women Writing the West, the following is from the organization's website.

More than simply a recognition that women played broader and more complex roles than being wives or prostitutes, the new view of the Women's West speaks to the diversity of women of all cultures and all time periods. It acknowledges the rich variety of ways women responded to, and continue to respond to, the western experience.

If you write about women who live in the past, present or future of America west of the Mississippi River, you should consider joining. For more information, go to