Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Morning is the Write Time for Me

My writing routine is usually in the predawn hours, when most people are sleeping, coffee aroma wafts from the kitchen to my study, the TV is silent, and the telephone isn't ringing.

That's the most productive time of the day for me to put my thoughts and feelings on the screen.

I've often noted that it is especially important while writing the first draft, to minimize the chance of distractions cropping up along the way.

Now I must say that morning is probably the best time to work on rewrites. Why? Because the author still needs to be in an environment conducive to expressing oneself.

I'm currently working on the second draft of a manuscript, one that I hope to complete by the end of the year. And it's been frustrating, for the most part. Why? Because I find it nearly impossible to get into the flow of the story because of countless distractions.

If it's not someone knocking on the front door, it's the phone ringing (usually a telemarketer). Then there are chores that have to be done during the course of the day, usually in the afternoon and early evening. There is some home construction going on in the neighborhood so I hear hammering and vehicles going back and forth. And yes, I admit, the Internet beckons like a tempting siren from time to  time.

I'm not saying morning is the best time for you. We all have our preferred times for writing because of  work, parenting, and other obligations. I have some author friends who like to write close to the midnight hour, for much the same reasons I like the morning.

But for me, it's back to the morning grind. I can almost smell the coffee.

Until the next time....

Monday, November 28, 2016

Progress Report -- Developing Characters

I'm into the second rewrite of my work in progress (see previous post). Because of the holidays, I'm a couple days behind in my work.

So it's full speed ahead for the rest of the year, and probably then some.

One thing I find important in a rewrite, especially the second, is to understand my characters more deeply. Characters were only developing in the early part of the first draft, and became more fully realized as the story progressed near the end.

So, when going back to the manuscript and understanding the characters even more, changes can be made to give them more vitality at the beginning. And in the process, they will become more fully developed by the end of the second rewrite.

And they will evolve even more in the successive rewrites, until the author is satisfied (as much as one can be) with the final draft, before submission to an editor. 

In other words, the author really gets to know and understand those fictional folks who populate the pages. More importantly, readers will see them as real people and respond to them accordingly.  

Until the next time....

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Progress Report -- Second Draft

I've started on the second draft of my work in progress, a sequel to "Old Ways and New Days."

The past few days have been spent rereading OWND, going over old notes, making new notes and reviewing research to make sure everything flows.

It will take me a week or so to go over the manuscript, then I will go over it again and again (probably eight more times). My goal is to have it completed and ready for the publisher by the first of the year.

My editor at Wings ePress will spend a week or so, maybe longer, going over the manuscript and return it to me for edits and perhaps a few suggestions to strengthen the story. The process takes several weeks, or longer.   

One incentive is to have it ready for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest, in Bowling Green, on April 22. A  week later, I'll be participating in the seventh annual Authors Fair in La Grange, Ky.  

I don't mind the rewrites other than getting tired of going over the manuscript an eighth or ninth time. At that point you read things you think are there and overlook other things you believe aren't there. That's when a good editor steps in and sees things that are there, should be there or shouldn't be there. 

Back to the manuscript. 

Until the next time....

Thursday, November 17, 2016

On the Road Again (Looking Back and Ahead)

It was a memorable nine days on the road in October, visiting places such as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Devils Tower in Wyoming, Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

My main regret is that the trip through nine states didn't last longer because there were a few sites I would have enjoyed spending more time, especially the various museums.  

But time was of the essence since one person (my wife) had to return to work. And one person (me) had things to do such as get back to  my work in progress. And we did leave our two doggies, Bailey and Belle, at home so we wanted to get back to see them. And it wasn't a free ride either.

Some reflections:

  • We would have liked to see the Lakota museum in Chamberlain, S.D., especially after seeing the majestic 50-foot "Dignity" statue. 
  • While in Mitchell, S.D., to see the Corn Palace, we learned that the George S. McGovern museum was located there.
  • We arrived in Winterset, Iowa, shortly after 8 a.m. to see the John Wayne Museum, but it didn't open until 10. We had to hit the road.  
  • We stayed overnight in Sheridan, Wyo., after visiting Devils Tower. We would have enjoyed spending more time in this cowboy town there but we wanted to stick to our planned itinerary as much as possible. 
  • I had heard from others about the brilliant night sky in Wyoming and Montana but we were never in a place to see it. And we're not night owls.
  • I was surprised that Wall Drug in South Dakota closed at 6 p.m.; we arrived about 30 minutes after closing. With all the roadside advertising, I thought it might be a 24/7 operation. 
  • While in Wyoming, several people said that we should drive another three hours or so west to see Yellowstone National Park. We gave it some thought but decided that you don't pay short visits to Yellowstone; it deserves a few days. And it's on our bucket list along with a few other sites in Montana, Washington, and Oregon that we may travel to in 2017 or 2018 -- but not by car.
  • Our timetable was to get to Rapid City, S.D., in two days. It's about 1,000 miles. I figured 600 or so on the first day, then 400 the next day. We did it but it was a big mistake. Too many miles. And you have to factor in lunch, pit stops, etc., so you're on the road longer than initially calculated. It makes for very, very long days. 

We got terrific gas mileage from Mary's Toyota Prius, about 52 mpg over 3,800 miles. And with gas prices down, that was one of the bargains. Traveling during the off season, especially the places around Rapid City, made the trip more enjoyable, unless you prefer big crowds and long lines. Motel rates were less expensive as well. 

Almost forgot...we had a great time seeing other scenic parts of our nation!

Now to start planning our next big adventure in the U.S. That's kinda fun, too.

Until the next time....

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On the Road Again (Starved Rock State Park)

The final stop in our whirlwind drive through nine states in nine days was Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

I had never heard of the place (and I'm sure many Illinoisans haven't heard of some parks in Kentucky) until I read about it in Midwest Living's excellent Best of the Midwest Travel guide. By the way, this magazine became my primary source for planning in the weeks leading up to our 3,800-mile journey.

Eagle Cliff overlook at Illinois River 
Starved Rock got its name from an Indian legend dating from the 18th century. Members of the Illinois tribe died from starvation on one of the rocky peaks following a fierce battle with Ottawa Indians. More about it here

It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

One of  easy trails 
The park, located less than 100 miles south of Chicago, was voted the No. 1 attraction in the state. I couldn't find the source of that ranking but it is a destination that draws 2.5 million visitors annually. I can see why it would be a great place for Chicagoans to escape from the urban hustle and bustle since it contains more than 12.3 miles of hiking trails through 18 sandstone canyons and several waterfalls.

The park also has a rustic lodge, cabins, camping grounds, visitors center, and numerous markers to keep you from straying too far off the beaten path. We had hoped to see some beautiful fall foliage like we'd viewed while driving across Minnesota and Wisconsin, but we were probably a week or two early to enjoy the colors. 

Visitors Center

Starved Rock lies on the south bank of the Illinois River so it offers water activities such as cruises, boating, and fishing (sorry, no swimming or wading). We had a nice buffet lunch in the lodge during our visit, then hiked several trails before getting back on the highway on our way back home (after an overnight stay in Bloomington/Normal).

Starved Rock State Park is certainly a place we'd return to if we're ever back in that neck of the woods. 

For more images visit my Facebook page. 

Until the next time....  

Friday, November 11, 2016

On the Road Again (Mall of America)

On our journey back home, my wife and I decided to stop at Mall of America, the huge shopping complex in Bloomington, Minnesota. It's been on our bucket list -- a place to see if within driving distance.

It wasn't what we expected. We thought it would be in some semi-rural area, and perhaps it was when it opened in 1992, but it's right off the I-494 for easy access. No doubt it's a shopaholic's dream destination. 
A view from the third level

Here are a few facts:

  • Four out of 10 visitors to the mall are tourists (it attracts 40 million (yes, that's correct, million, visitors a year)
  • The walking distance around one level is 1.15 miles
  • There are 5.6 million square feet of gross building area
  • There are about 520 stores, with about 12,000 employees
  • There are 27 rides in Nickelodeon Universe
  • There are 12,750 parking spaces on the two parking levels (I didn't have any trouble getting one, or finding my vehicle when ready to leave.)
  • More than 400 events are held each year

We didn't arrive at the mall until early evening and walked around the four levels -- a quick window shopping. I could say you could almost get lost, but everything is well marked so if you keep your bearings, you're safe. Mary did buy chocolate ice cream on a cone. We were there as sightseers, not shoppers. 

Nickelodeon amusement park
As you might expect, there are plenty of clothing stores (no sales tax on clothing and shoes in Minnesota), various and sundry places to shop and eat, and areas such as Nickelodeon Universe, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, American Girl, Lego Store, and movie theaters. It also attracts walkers, who can enjoy the constant 70-degree temperatures, especially during the frigid Minnesota winters. 

So there's something for everyone -- in large quantities. A shopper's paradise. 

And I might add that the mall is nice and clean. The upkeep has been extraordinary for a place that's nearly 25 years old. I'm sure it will be decked out for the holidays. I have a friend in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who has participated in shopping trips on tour busses to the mall, so I can imagine what the place will be like from now until Christmas with folks coming in from all directions.

Next stop: Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

Until the next time....

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On the Road Again (Bismarck and Jamestown, North Dakota)

Back on the road again after visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park, my wife and I took a straight line (it seems all roads in North Dakota are straight) to the the capital city of Bismarck.

Entrance to North Dakota Culture Center
After a good night's sleep, and a hardy breakfast, we headed to the impressive North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum. If a person had to choose only one place to visit in North Dakota, this would be the destination because it offers something about everything in the state.

The "Skyscraper of the Prairie"
The center is located adjacent to the state capitol building, dubbed the "Skyscraper on the Prairie" because it stands a whopping 241 feet (that's a joke, folks, because the topography is rather flat). 

Inside the center you'll find exhibits, relics and replicas, from the dinosaur age to modern day, and lots in between. I was stationed at a missile base while I was in the Air Force eons ago, so I found an exhibit of a Minuteman center very interesting since I never got close to one while in the military. 

Tyrannosaurus Rex
Read more about this fabulous place by clicking here. Did I mention that it was free? And yes, we'd like to return and take in other places in this neat city of nearly 120,000 residents, such as Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park and Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Our next stop was Jamestown, about 100 miles east of the capital (with an 80 mph speed limit on I-94, the time simply files by), to see the world's largest buffalo monument! Is it any wonder the town of nearly 16,000 residents is known as "The Buffalo City."

The 60-ton concrete monument, named Dakota Thunder, is 25-feet tall. He's been a landmark at this prairie stop since 1959. You can spot him from the highway (we did and had to turn around at the next exit). 
Dakota Thunder

Dakota Thunder is located at Frontier Village and the National Buffalo Museum. We were there during off season (the museum was open) so there weren't many people in the area. But Jamestown has more to offer (but how can you top a giant bison?) such as Fort Seward, Louis L'Amour Trail and the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame (I'm sure all those places would be worth a visit).  

So it was back on the road, heading eastward toward Minneapolis. Let me add that we stopped to eat at the Perkins Restaurant in Fergus Falls, Minn., and I had one of the tastiest omelets I've ever devoured in my life.

For more images, visit my Facebook page by clicking here.

Until the next time....

Monday, November 7, 2016

On the Road Again (Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora in North Dakota

The next stop on our whirlwind trip was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. 
Welcome sign at South Unit

Roosevelt spent several years in North Dakota as a young man, owning a ranch in the rugged Dakota Badlands. He returned to New York in 1887, but living there left on indelible mark on his life: "I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota."

For me, spending only a couple days in the (choose one, two or all) Peace Garden,  Flickertail, or Roughrider State, it was a memorable experience.  And yes, I would love to return and explore more of the Dakotas -- North and South.
Badlands marker 

My wife, Mary, and I entered the South Unit of the national park at Medora, taking a driving tour through the Badlands. Then we drove another 70 miles or so to see the North Unit, near Watford City. There is also Elkhorn Ranch Unit, the site of Roosevelt's second ranch, located midway between the North and South Units and inaccessible at times because of unpaved and steep roads (we didn't want to put our Prius through that).

The national park, established in 1947 to honor the great conservationist and 26th president, is fascinating -- the museum in the South Unit Visitor Center, prairie dog "towns," feral horses, bighorn sheep, bison, grasslands, and the colorful canyons. The Little Missouri River winds it way through the units. 

Roundup of  bison
One of the highlights was watching roundup of buffaloes at the North Unit, with park rangers using a helicopter to move the herd. A ranger told me that it's done every four years to trim the population, with the buffaloes later transported to Indian reservations as far away as Oklahoma.

Bighorn sheep
Another interesting sight was seeing bighorn sheep along the side of a hill that a helpful park ranger directed us to before we left the area. For the record, the rangers were talked to at the various national parks on this trip were courteous, friendly and most helpful in providing information and directions. 

Bucking bronco statue
As we left the South Unit on our way to the North Unit, we made a brief visit in the picturesque cowboy town of Medora, home of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and the popular Medora Musical. The small town is the hub to many of the activities related to the national park as well as the proud cowboy and Indian heritage that runs so deep in this part of the country. 

For more images, visit my Facebook page by clicking here.

Next stop: Bismarck, North Dakota.

Until the next time.... 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

On the Road Again (Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument)

After spending the afternoon at Devils Tower National Monument, my wife Mary and I spent the night in the cowboy town of  Sheridan, Wyoming, a place we'd like to return to and spend more time.

Last Stand Hill
The next morning we were back on the road again, heading about 60 miles northeast to visit Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency, Montana. 

Most folks have heard about Little Bighorn, the site of Lt. Col. George Custer's "last stand" against Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors on June 25-26, 1876. Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were among the Indians encamped at the Little Bighorn. When it was over, the 7th Cavalry lost 263 men, including Custer, while Indian losses were estimated at less than 100. 

Our visit began with a 45-minute informative and animated presentation by a park ranger, providing both sides of the celebrated clash between the U.S. military and Native Americans. We then viewed the artifacts in the visitor center before going outside to walk the trails to the two monuments and battle sites. 

7th Cavalry Monument

The walking tour is a somber one, passing numerous grave markers of fallen soldiers and warriors, many near "Last Stand Hill."  We also took a driving tour to the far reaches of the battlefield, seeing lone grave markers in distant fields.
Artwork at the Indian Monument
What was it like on that fateful day in 1876? Northern Cheyenne Chief Two Moon recalled: "We circled all around them--swirling like water around a stone. We shoot, we ride fast, we shoot again. Soldiers drop, and horses fall on them."

Custer's remains were reinterred at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. Also among the dead were Custer's brothers, Thomas and Boston,  nephew, Autie, and brother-in-law, 1st Lt. James Calhoun. Thomas, a captain, was twice awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

We learned from our visit that it was probably the last stand for the Indians as they dispersed after the battle and returned to their reservations. The Great Sioux War was nearly over.

It reminded me of a visit several years ago to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, site of the bloodiest Civil War battle in 1863, one that many historians consider the turning point in the War Between the States. 

Custer National Cemetery
Custer National Cemetery is located on the grounds of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. In addition to some of the fallen at Little Bighorn, the hallowed ground contains the remains of veterans from the Spanish-American War to Vietnam as well as graves of Indian scouts who served in the military.

For more photos, visit my Facebook page by clicking here.

Next stop: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Until the next time....

Thursday, November 3, 2016

On the Road Again (Devils Tower National Monument)

Devils Tower National Monument appears as a giant monolith protruding from the flat prairie as you approach from miles away in northeastern Wyoming.

Devils Tower
It is impressive, rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and 5,112 feet above sea level.  According to the National Park Service, the Tower was "formed by an igneous intrusion, the forcible entry of igneous rock material" about 50 million years ago. It's also laccolithic butte.  I took a geology course in college, almost 50 years ago, and that's all Greek to me now.

The paved Tower Trail
Devils Tower is a fascinating place to visit. There are hiking trials (my wife and I took the easy, paved 1.3-mile Tower Trial), a steep formation for climbers, various flora and fauna, camping -- or simply sit and gaze at this glorious piece of natural beauty.  It's no wonder President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it as America's first national monument in 1906.

Offerings on tree
The Tower means different things to people. For American Indians, it's sacred ground. They often refer to it as Bear Lodge.  You can see offerings left on trees as you trek around the base.

For climbers, it's a destination to ascend and descend the (865 feet)  in one day. We saw seven the afternoon we visited. That's something I'd never do; I even get a queasy stomach watching them.  I learned that there is a voluntary climbing closure each June since Northern Plains Native Americans congregate there for ceremonial reasons.

Longhorn and bison outside the park
And for others, this is the place that lured humans and aliens in Steven Spielberg's classic movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."  We didn't run across any aliens but were warned to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes and black widow spiders. And don't touch or feed those cute black-tailed prairie dogs since they may bite!  

See more images on my Facebook page by clicking here.

Next stop: Little Bighorn Battlefield

Until the next time....

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Progress Report -- First Draft

I've cleared a big hurdle on my work in progress -- the first draft. 

My goal was to have it completed by Oct. 31, so I was only one day off the mark. I've written nearly 71,000 words in the sequel to "Old Ways and New Days," which was published October 2015.

I'll probably sit on it a few days before going back for the first of several rewrites. I hope to have it ready for my publisher by the end of the year. Let me repeat that. I hope to have it ready...

During the next few days I'll skim over my notes on OWND and the new work, and probably give OWND a quick read to make sure I have everything down -- timeline, characters, scenes, subplots -- to expand and extend the story. There will be a new set of note cards and reference sheets to guide me along the way. It's kind of like being in school again.

The manuscript will probably grow during the rewrites. In the past, I've generally added 20,000 or more words to an overall count although I do some trimming, sometimes extensive, along the way as well. I prefer shorter novels, in the 75k range, but in the end, it's the story that really dictates how long it will be when it's ready to be published.  

It's an interesting and time-consuming process. But it can get tedious as well, especially when going over the manuscript nine or 10 times before turning it over to an editor. I must admit that I get tired of reading the words after about the fifth or sixth time. That's when a good editor is invaluable because they see things that you don't see or that you think you see on the screen.  

That's all for now. I'll keep you posted along the way to publication and beyond.

Until the next time.... 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On the Road Again (Deadwood and Belle Fourche, South Dakota)

After spending two memorable days in Rapid City, S.D., Mary and I headed west, making stops in Deadwood and Belle Fourche in our whirlwind journey.

We drove through Sturgis, home of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Last year it attracted one million visitors. Maybe I'll return if my wife lets me buy a motorcycle (I'm not holding my breath).

Cowboy statue
Deadwood, a town of about 1,300 founded in 1876, has a lot to offer for tourists,  from history of the wild west (Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane), gambling, museums, historic buildings, gold mines, and the Mount Moriah Cemetery. The historic district was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Now that's a lot of history.

And you'll find lots of casinos, if that's your thing. 

Hickok memorial 
We took a self-guided walking tour of the town, ending at the famous cemetery with the grave sites of Hickok and Calamity Jane. Hickok's bronze memorial was dedicated in 2002, following a $4.8 million restoration of the historic and sacred grounds.

Sheriff Seth Bullock's tombstone was placed at the top the cemetery, another 750 feet from the others, so his wish of being on a plot facing Mount Roosevelt (he and President Theodore Roosevelt were friends) could be fulfilled. 

Gunfights are reenacted several times a day but we were there too early in the morning to witness the gunslingers do their thing. I suppose I'll have to watch reruns of HBO's "Deadwood" to experience those bloody encounters.

Center of the Nation monument
After Deadwood, we made a quick stop in Belle Fourche (pronounced Foosh), a town of 5,600 near the geographic center of the United States. The actual center is about 20 miles north of town, but it's on private property so the monument is located behind the Tri-State Museum and Visitor Center.

Lebanon, Kansas, held that distinction until Aug. 21, 1959, when Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state. It's now the "Geographic Center of the 48 Contiguous States." I wonder if the citizens of Belle Fourche are concerned about Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state?

Buckskin Johnny Cabin
While there we toured the museum and visited the Buckskin Johnny Cabin, built in 1876. As with most places, we wished we could have stayed longer but time was of the essence. We had to take the highway (according to our Tom Tom).

For more images, visit my Facebook page by clicking here for Deadwood and here for Belle Fourche.

Next stop: Devil's Tower.

Until the next time....