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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nature Writing

I love writing about nature. It gives me a thrill 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. Though the thick pile of weeds made for a soft landing, when the thorny arms therein refused to let go, 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 began 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 put on your pink earrings,
use your measuring spoons,
wear the jacket you asked me to keep,
and then look in the mirror.

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

Sometimes I sense your presence
in the enigmatic eyes of my cat,
or when the topmost branch of a juniper
waves without a hint of breeze,
or while walking along the canal bank
where you used to walk.

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ten Tips for Self-publishers

My mother passed away this week, so I'm posting another author's advice for writers who choose to self-publish. The author's name is Liz Lazarus. Below are her top ten suggestions.

While writing Free of Malice was a labor of love, as a first time self-published author, I have learned that writing the book is just the beginning. Taking the manuscript to final product, distribution and promotion are just as important. Hopefully my Top 10 tips will make the journey a little easier for others who are just starting out.
1. Create and pay for your own ISBN so you stay in control of distribution.
2. Have a few honest friends give you early feedback---it’s hard to judge your own work. You know the old saying, “It’s hard to tell if your baby’s ugly.”
3. Print on demand so you can make early tweaks. There are always more typos than you think are humanly possible! CreateSpace is a great option.
4. Don’t go to layout until you are sure you have no more changes. I mean absolutely, positively, 100%, no more changes sure.
5. Find the right PR firm. The best way to test them is to see who can produce a good media kit and how many current media contacts they have.
6. Learn the world of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. Understanding these platforms as platforms for growing your brand is critical.
7. Do spend the money on a proper website. It’s your home base and your identity.
8. Have other projects or work that balance your focus on your book and allow for a fresh perspective.
9. For reviews, Foreward/Clarion and Midwest Book Review seem to be the most Indie friendly, in my experience.
10. And most importantly, remember that some of the most famous authors have a pile of early rejection letters. Don’t let it discourage you!
Fellow authors, what tips would you add to the list?
About the Author:
In her previous career, Liz LazarusLiz grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, known for its high school football and as the last watering hole on highway I-75 before entering Florida. She was editor of her high school newspaper and salutatorian of her class. Liz graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree and went on to a successful career at General Electric before joining a consulting firm.