D.H. Lawrence Remains

I so enjoy visiting the places where famous creatives once lived and worked. I got a healthy helping of that when I lived in New Mexico. Writers. Artists. Today, I will focus on D.H. Lawrence. Yes, he lived there.

I was inspired after Poetic Outlaws shared Lawrence’s poem, On That Day. I shall put roses on roses, and cover your grave/ With multitude of white roses: and since you were braveOne bright red ray. 

The poem brought me back to the several visits I made to Lawrence’s grave in San Cristobal, an unincorporated area north of Taos with less than 300 people. The 160-acre D.H. Lawrence Ranch includes two modest cabins and a chapel-like memorial for Lawrence, in which his ashes are mixed in a block of cement or so the legend goes.

Lawrence and his wife Frieda first visited New Mexico in September 1922, when they were invited by Mabel Dodge Luhan, a wealthy patron of the arts who settled in Taos. (Luhan brought other luminaries of the day such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and Aldous Huxley.) The Lawrences came three times— staying a total of 11 months. On the second visit, Luhan gifted the ranch to Lawrence and Frieda, who gave her the original manuscript for Sons and Lovers.

The ranch’s cabins where the Lawrences and their artist friend, Lady Dorothy Brett, lived are made of Ponderosa pine logs cut in the 1880s and adobe plaster. The Lawrences lived in the three-room Homesteader’s Cabin, and Brett in the one-room cabin, dubbed the Dorothy Brett Cabin. Lawrence, who was on a self-imposed exile from England, wanted to start a utopian society and Brett was the only one to take him up on his idea.

The D.H. Lawrence Ranch is about 18 miles north of Taos, where I lived. I can only imagine what a rough journey that must have been when he stayed there. Even now the last leg is seven miles on a dirt forest service road. (Watch out for cows wandering along the road.)

Then there is the Lawrence tree. He wrote in long hand beneath this grand pine and O’Keeffe later memorialized it in her painting, The Lawrence Tree. While here Lawrence wrote a short novel, St. Mawr, a biblical drama, David, and parts of The Plumed Serpent.

Lawrence died in France in 1930. Five years later, Frieda had his remains exhumed then cremated. His ashes were brought to the ranch. 

After a dispute with Luhan and Brett over what to do with Lawrence’s remains, the story goes Frieda mixed his ashes with wet cement in a wheel barrow and used it for his memorial altar. The altar has his initials and above it a statue of his personal symbol, the phoenix. Visitors often leave mementos.

Frieda, who entrusted the property to the University of New Mexico, is buried outside.

During my visits, I reveled that a giant in the literary world would choose even for a short time to live in this primitive and remote spot. My first experience with Lawrence was reading his classics Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Sons and Lovers in a one-room cabin with no running water or electricity in New Hampshire. But that is another story.


Worst of Winter

There always seems to be one week in winter when it feels the grayest, coldest, and maybe the snowiest. And where I live that typically happens in mid-January. Certainly, for the past several days, we have been experiencing a brutal cold — although it appears the same is true for much of the country. (My daughter who lives in Florida says it was in the nippy 30s there.)

This past weekend, it was 8 degrees when I got up and the temps didn’t rise that much during the day. Sunlight streamed in from the east side of the house, but I wasn’t fooled into thinking it could be warm outside. I had to force myself to take my daily walk and carry in armfuls of firewood for the workshop’s stove. I thought “ka-ching” every time I heard the furnace begin to crank. Luckily, any snow we got was powder thanks to the cold, so shoveling was easy or the flakes just blew away.

I dreaded this week when I worked outside the home, specifically as a newspaper editor. In those days, I drove a good country road, Route 143, from Worthington, the small hill town in Western Mass. where we lived, through two others to a valley city. I began my commute at 6:10 a.m. and left work at 3 p.m. Most of the year, it was a pleasant 45-minute drive with long views, deep forests, occasional wildlife, and very few vehicles. A traffic jam typically involved three cars stuck behind a logging truck on one of the route’s steep hills.

But winter was a different experience altogether. I was obsessed with following the weather and planned accordingly. But more often than not, the worst stretch was the aforementioned mid-week in January.

That week started with the day we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a day off for the highway crews. Every year it seemed, we got hit with a storm and the crews would have to be called in to take care of the roads. As I drove home, I hoped my timing was good.

And, of course, the light deprivation and isolation can be really hard on some people.

When I wrote Northern Comfort, one of my three Hilltown Books, I wanted to capture this bleak time of year. This is a book about haves and have nots. One of the main characters is Willi Miller who lives in poverty while raising her disabled son alone. The book begins with a tragic accident, but it evolves into a story about hope and perseverance, much like what spring can do for us.

Here is a passage from the first chapter, appropriately called Worst of Winter, that I feel describes this time of year. Willi Miller is hanging laundry after coming home from work.

She picked her hat from the snow. The sun was low in the sky, and the dark smudge spreading from the west likely carried more snow. Willi frowned. It’d be too much trouble to take the clothes down again. She hated this part of winter, mid-January. It snowed every day, not much, but enough to keep the road crews going with their plows and sanders. Winter always has a week like this, unsettled weather, the worst of the season, of the year, as far as she was concerned. Often, it happened after the thaw, so that brief warm spell seemed like one cruel joke.

I believe the temperatures are supposed to rise this coming week. Well, it was 16 degrees when I woke up this morning. That’s a start. But being a skeptical New Englander, I’ll say seeing — and in this case, feeling — is believing.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Something amusing I saw outside a bakery in the Berkshires.


Give It Ten

Plenty of times Hank and I have come to the end of an enjoyable TV series or movie and have to hunt for something new. How about this one? We liked that actor in something else. Or someone we know recommended it. Or it got great reviews. Or the trailer looks promising. Okay, let’s try it.

But then, it comes down to this ultimatum: “We’ll give it ten.”

Yes, ten minutes is enough time for us to determine whether a show or movie would be something worth watching.

Often it doesn’t take that long to make a decision. The acting is bad. The storyline doesn’t grab us. It’s filmed poorly. For me, dubbed is a deal-breaker. Give me the original language and subtitles please. I can handle it.

Other times we hit viewer pay dirt although there are those days we lament “all these programs and nothing to watch.”

It works the same way for me with books although I measure my interest by pages instead of minutes. I don’t have an exact number, but I figure out pretty quickly, ten or twenty pages in, sometimes fewer, if this book is for me no matter the reviews or what best-seller lists it made. Perhaps it’s a case in which a well-known author ran out of gas with this novel. (I suppose that’s how agents and publishers make their decision when considering a manuscript although they are also mulling its monetary value.)

I know people who will finish a book no matter what. Me? Nah. I only did that when I was a student because it was required.

One of the joys is finding a book I can’t put down. Really. And I don’t mean what people like to write in reviews. But truthfully, this book steals me away from everything I should be doing like making dinner.

That’s happened many times: Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees; Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian; John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row; Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News; Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter. The list goes on. Most recently, I felt that way with Daniel Black’s Don’t Cry for Me. And, frankly, I hope readers feel the same when they read the books I write.

What about you? Do you have a test?

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Uncategorized

Writing about Strong Women

When I began writing my mystery series, I aimed to create strong women characters who know what they want and go after it. Topping the list, of course, is Isabel Long, the protagonist of the series, including the latest, Missing the Deadline.

From the start, Isabel was going to be a woman with some good miles on her. A recent widow, she has grown kids and a granddaughter. As for looks, she’s attractive enough to gain the attention of older men, like Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar where she works part-time.

Isabel had a long career as a journalist — starting as a reporter covering the dinky hilltown of Conwell where she lives to being the top editor of the newspaper until that ended after it went corporate. When the new owner told everybody they had to reapply for their job, Isabel said, “To hell with that.”

Yeah, Isabel is a bit on the sassy side. She’s also savvy, which made her a great journalist. Now, those qualities and other transferable skills come in handy as a private investigator.

For her ‘Watson,’ I chose a 93-year-old mother, who lives with her. Maria Ferreira, a big reader of mysteries and smutty romances, gives her daughter ideas to ponder and even goes on interviews with persons of interest when there isn’t danger. Ma, as Isabel calls her, says she’s bored when they don’t have a case.

I will admit there is a lot of me in Isabel, which makes sense since I write the series in first person. I was also a longtime journalist. Maria was inspired by my late mother. The rest of the characters are fabricated.

I carry many of my characters throughout the seven book, thus far, including a favorite, Annette Waters. Annette — aka the Tough Cookie, Isabel’s secret nickname for her —  runs a garage and junkyard that used to belong to her SOB of a father. In the second book, Redneck’s Revenge, she hires Isabel to investigate her father’s death.

I so enjoy Annette’s no-holds-barred personality the men in her life enjoy. Her latest venture is singing lead in a band, fittingly called The Junkyard Dogs. In Missing the Deadline, she develops an interesting and unexpected romance , but no spoilers here.

Also in Missing the Deadline, we encounter new female characters. Wendy Danielson is the devoted sister to Gerald Danielson, a literary agent who was shot and left to die. He survived but isn’t able to run the agency, so she does. There’s also a vindictive ex-wife and a jilted local writer. One of my favorites is Tammy, a tough local gal who cleans for the Danielsons. She happens to be the sister of Lisa, Jack’s pain-in-the-ass ex, who unfortunately for Isabel keeps appearing in these books.

Other interesting women in the series have included Jack’s sister, Annette’s cousin Marsha, Isabel’s daughter Ruth, a woman police chief, a hoarding grandmother, plus the fearless editor of a small town newspaper. So far, only two women have turned out to be criminals. My lips are sealed about that.

But back to Annette. Here’s a scene from Missing the Deadline. In this case Isabel is investigating the shooting of Gerald Danielson outside his home. Isabel and her mother have stopped at a country store after meeting with the man’s sister.

Annette shakes her head.

“You two crack me up. So, what is it? Murder or missing person? Those appear to be your specialties.”

“So far. This one may be an attempted murder, but we don’t know for sure. Right now, people think it was a failed attempted suicide. Poor guy’s a New Yorker who moved to Meadows Falls. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Does the name Gerald Danielson mean anything to you?”

“Ol’ Gerry?” She laughs. “Yeah, I remember him. He used to have my Pop work on his car since we were a lot cheaper than the garages in New York. I believe Pop met his match. A real piece of work that guy. Kind of an asshole. Sorry, Maria,” she says. “I heard he tried to off himself. Didn’t it happen at his home in Meadows Falls? Too bad. Pop got killed in that fire earlier that year. Gerry came to his funeral. He asked if I needed anythin’. I told him to just keep bringin’ his car for me to fix. Course, that changed in the fall.”

I smile while Annette takes a bite of her muffin.

“You have a good memory,” I say. “You said he was a piece of work. Tell me more.”

“Typical New Yorker. He came here with heavy pockets and let us know all about it. Lives on Gorman Road in Meadows Falls. Bought himself a big ol’ house and had it fixed up. Lots of land came with it. But he and Pop got along okay. I’d be workin’ on a car in the garage and hear them go back and forth like two barkin’ dogs. Pop called him Gerry just to get his goat. Gerry called him Waters. He was kind of a dirty old man. The things he’s say to me when Pop wasn’t around. One day I picked up a wrench and said if his dick needed an adjustment, I’d be glad to do it for free. He got the message.”

“I bet he did.”

“We actually got along just fine after that,” Annette says.

As Isabel would say, you don’t mess with the Tough Cookie.

Missing the Deadline, which was released Dec. 21, is available in Kindle. Paperback readers will have to be a little patient.

Isabel Long Mystery Series, Uncategorized

Next Isabel Long Mystery: Missing the Deadline

Yes, Isabel Long is once again hard at work trying to solve a case in the sticks of Western Massachusetts. Missing the Deadline, no. 7 in my series, is now ready to pre-order. The Kindle version will be released Dec. 21 — thanks to my publisher darkstroke books. (Paperback readers will have to wait a few months.) Here’s the link: Missing the Deadline.

As it has happened before, Isabel finds her next case in an unlikely place — at a poetry reading. Cyrus Nilsson, aka the Big Shot Poet, is trying to make amends to the late Cary Moore, who you might remember was a highway worker who wrote poetry good enough for him to steal. He was even a suspect in that case, Isabel’s third. But the reading is to promote Cary’s book, Country Boy, which Cyrus worked hard to get published.

Cyrus asks Isabel about taking on a case after the event, which was SRO at Penfield Town Hall. So, what’s this one about? Cyrus’s first literary agent, Gerald Danielson, was found shot in the head and near death outside his home three years ago.

Gerald survived but is not the same hotshot literary agent who moved from New York City to the village of Meadows Falls. Police ruled a failed attempt at suicide. But Cyrus has serious doubts. 

And as Isabel pursues this case, she quickly accumulates a list of possible suspects, such as a vindictive ex-wife, a jilted local writer, and even an apparently devoted sister who lives with him. 

Isabel also delves into the often frustrating world of publishing, which includes a trip to a literary conference in Vermont. She also explores a part of the hilltowns that is unfamiliar to her. 

(By the way, Maria, Isabel’s mother and “Watson,” is glad to have a case once again. She says it’s boring without one.)

Over the next several weeks, I will share more about the book. I hope you are inspired to pre-order the book. Here’s the link to Missing the Deadline again. It sure helps with ratings, something Gerald Danielson would certainly understand.