Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bad Apple by Barb Morgenroth

Am halfway into Barbara Morgenroth's BAD APPLE, a YA about a girl who has tried to hide from her crazy non-relatives, ever since her father died and left her to be raised by his nutty wife, her stepmother, and her lawless, vicious, and crazy children from another marriage. Only Aunt Maude, not really her aunt, is around to give her respite from the dysfunction.

When an older friend, Paul, who taught Neal to play the fiddle, is murdered, Neal's life switches into high gear, despite her best efforts to step off the Truly music train. Read the book and you'll know what I mean. Morgenroth's writing reminds me of the best of Lisa McCann, and she's deft and sure-handed when it comes to writing teen-aged girls.  I can't wait to finish it, yet on the other hand, I don't want it to end.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Westerns and Me, Part Trois

         In my last post, I forgot to mention a super book called People of the White Mountain.   I have no idea if it's still in print - I found it a long time ago at the Smithsonian book shop - but it's a first hand look at Native Americans and what happened to them. 

        There's nothing like seeing where history happened. We drove to Ft.Sill, Oklahoma, (the hottest wind on the planet) to see Geronimo’s grave, and the reservation there, where we ate fry bread. The Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina was a sad picture of casinos. In San Angelo, Texas, we visited Ft. Concho, where the Buffalo Soldiers under General Grierson fought the Kiowa and Comanche. It's privately owned now, but you can feel how hard life must have been. We tracked down other forts across Texas, some of them nothing but piles of stone in the middle of some field with a weathered Texas State marker. In a way, these sites are the lost Roman ruins of the United States. For someone who grew up riding old Roman roads across the Middle East, this was quite a revelation.

         After all my research, I came to the conclusion that since history is written by the winners, I’d write from the viewpoint of the losers. There's a line in Last of the Dogmen where Barbara Hershey's character says (paraphrasing here), “it was inevitable that the Native Americans would lose their land. It’s how it was taken from them that’s horrible.” I wanted to show the horror of being a displaced people, starving, on the run, and finally being forced into giving up what and who they were as a free people.  If you want a chilling first-hand view, read the history of this time from original orders and letters by William T. Sherman, to what the Kiowa chiefs said at peace conferences.

            So what about American films in the Western genre?  Their heyday is over, but some can be found hanging around on cable on on DVD.  American films I consider the best in portraying the West of myth and anti-myth: The Searchers and Thunderheart.  The Searchers portrays John Wayne as unheroic for the first time I can ever remember.  He’s determined to find the little girl taken by the Comanche, so he can kill her because she’s “turned” Comanche. (The Cynthia Ann/Quannah Parker story film-ized.)  The brutality of the Comanche (and they were vicious in war) is shown, as is the stark landscape of the settlers.  The treatment of women by their families after they were captured is shown in a film with breathtaking beauty and honesty.  Another duck-out-of -water story for the captive Natalie Wood, but also a story of survival and understanding.  The camera shot from inside the shed where John Wayne’s (married to another man) only love has been raped and killed is stunning. Classic loner western hero who is really a dinosaur in his own time.

            Thunderheart never fails to hold up.  A modern western, at its heart it’s a murder mystery.  However, the surrounding portrayal of the hopelessness of modern reservation life, its alcoholism, its struggle to retain its tribal identity , and the violence that was perpetrated by the federal government in the name of sovereignty is dead on when you look at the real-life situation on the Oglala reservation, the AIM standoff, and the incarceration of Pelletier for the killing of an FBI agent.  A story of injustice never rectified, it should be seen by anyone who thinks reservations are hotbeds of wealth coming from casinos.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Women who are going places. . .

Start at Hollins! The class of (mumble, um, mumble) at our Reunion this past June, standing on the steps of the Admin building. I'm the redhead in the middle of the last row. (Not really a redhead, but hey, redheads have more fun).

Hurrah for a liberal arts education! Hurrah for women's colleges! Proud to be a Hollins alum.

No football scandals at a women's college. So there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Westerns and Me, Part Deux

And so the saga continues....

 I wrote a paper at Hollins on the Western as a uniquely American genre, and that was the beginning of my in-depth study of the western genre, films and books.  For fun, I started writing a western using all the classic elements, but making the hero a woman who saved the herd. (Feminism was just starting to become a cause célèbre.) Went to law school, forgot about the book, until my mom (the librarian) gave me the address for a publisher who was starting a western line. Mailed a query letter and three chapters. Forgot about it. A year later, I got a call asking where the rest of the book was, and could I mail it in pronto? The unfinished book…of course, said I, it’ll be there by the end of the week. This is the book that Walker published that went on to final in the Western Writers of America awards for best first Western.  Morgan's Land. Still love that book, and it has some lyrical phrasing now and then, but the main point is, I finished it. Without the help of my friends (Christi and Susan, lifesavers and fast typists and proofers!), it would never have arrived on that editor's desk. Sara Ann Freed, rest in peace.

            Much of my original college research on the Western genre involved history as well as novels, and I found myself fascinated by several real stories.  One involved Sam Bass, who was a black federal marshal working for Hanging Judge Parker in Indian Territory. Sam always got his man. Thus was born On the Terror Trail, about a federal marshal on the trail of Indians being sold into slavery in Mexico. (really happened!) For a second time, I wanted a hero I hadn’t seen in the many westerns I’d read – a black man.  I’ll never forget when Avon (then the biggest name in publishing westerns in the early 80s, now a part of HarperCollins) told my agent they wanted to buy it, but I’d have to make the hero white. My agent said “it’s up to you,” and I said, “no deal.”  He found a hardback publisher specializing in the library market, and thus began a long term relationship with Thomas Bouregy and Co. and their Avalon line.  (Now swallowed up by Amazon.)

        I became fascinated with the story of Olive Oatman, captured by the Mojave. Saw a photo of her in her beautiful satin gown with lace collar, smooth black hair in a neat bun, and tattoos covering her face. Beautiful woman. After she was found and returned to her family, she chose to go back to the Mojave and became a teacher among them. The whole “duck out of water”story fascinated me (still does). Then I found research detailing the Medicine Lodge Treaty and its travesties,and thus was born the Mythmaker series, about a woman who is taken captive by the Kiowa and stays with them until the end. I've started a couple of more westerns, but with the market in the tank (as it has been for years now), if I write them, it'll be for epublication. I'm happy that one of my fav stories, The Last Campaign, about an army officer who must find out if he's still the soldier he once was, is selling on Amazon.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Westerns and Me, Part One

Since I'm working on rewrites in the Mythmaker series to get them up as ebooks, I thought I'd give a bit of background on how I came to write in the Western genre.  Since the majority of my youth was spent overseas, the affinity came mostly from TV and movies. 

I was lucky enough to see The Lone Ranger before we moved to Japan when I was a kid.  No TV, no films for three years.  I remember being fascinated with Tonto, who was a much more interesting character in my eyes.  Probably that’s where my fascination with Indians began. When we returned to the States three years later and went directly to visit my grandparents in Georgia, I remember practically the first thing she said was "You have to see this new program on Sunday night. It’s  Bonanza, about a widower with three sons and a ranch in Nevada.”  It’s the only TV program I remember except for “Wild, Wild West” that I watched with any regularity for the next four years we were in the States.  After moving to Turkey, we were once again TV-less and dependent for films on the Embassy.  (Lots of Ingmar Bergman, French films in French, etc. like the Les Parapluies de Cherbourge.)   Now and then, they’d show a classic western like Ride the High Country or The Searchers.   I consciously chose to watch the westerns I’d missed (like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Comanchero) and the new ones that were grittier, like Valdez is Coming, Hondo, Johnny Two Hats (with Gregory Peck!), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, and anything set in the West, when I was in college.

My four years at Ft. Leavenworth, where my dad was an instructor, were the longest I lived in one place. Ft. Leavenworth is loaded with history (we lived in the original house where Gen. George Armstrong Custer and his wife Libby did), from the 1840s onward.  Wagon ruts from the pioneers still ran along the banks of the Missouri River, close to our historic house.  My basic understanding of American history came from those four years in a place that was pretty central to the American Westward expansion.

And then came college in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and a paper on the Western as a uniquely American genre. Game on.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

It's all good/ Gina Ardito/ Barb Morgenroth

So I'm back to tracydunham.com on my web site. Godaddy picked it up for me when it was finally released, bless their hearts. I have to say, their phone help people are really, really good. In this day of lackluster customer service, "Chelsea" in Mumbai who is unintelligible on the phone, and waiting for an hour for customer service to speak to you (Verizon, anyone), I'm going to be a Godaddy customer for life. (Godaddy in no way solicited this plug, I'm just a customer to them.)

So, I've just finished ETERNALLY YOURS by Gina Ardito. Go forth and buy it at Amazon, Kindle, wherever. Gina's voice is totally original, her story the same, and the depth of emotion and faith, yes, faith, very rare in a romance. The morality and belief in the rightness of love winning over evil is what really distinguishes this story that, on the surface, appears funny, frothy, and crazy, but isn't. There is a depth here that'll take you beyond your usual escapist fare, and make you think. Really think.

Barbara Morgenroth's WAITING FOR YOU has a new title, INHIBITIONS.  You'll still like it - and like Gina, she has a totally original voice and story.  I'm starting her YA BAD APPLE,  and all I can say is, Barb is a writer who is consistently original. Like Gina, I don't think she's ever heard of a box so it's no problem to write outside of one.

My faith in the whole epublishing deal is reinforced by reading authors like Ardito and Morgenroth. These women can write, really write.  I just hope I can keep up!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Creative Writing Programs

A short piece by Lee Child got me thinking about writing programs.  I went to a school with a great creative writing program (I was an art history major), and I, a non-English major but a wanna be writer, benefited from it in many ways. Wonderful nurturing profs. Supportive environment. I learned word play and how to write to a deadline.  All positives. 

One of the best memories is that of meeting W.H. Auden. He'd been invited to campus, and a reception had been scheduled for one evening. English majors were invited, and I, although not an English major, somehow wangled an invite, so, off I went.  Dressed in my expensive Italian tan knit dress, brown Aigner heels, real pearls. 

Mr. Auden was sitting alone on a sofa, with people milling all around him, chatting to each other and not Mr. Auden. He was quite elderly then and reminded me of my own grandfather.  What does a good Southern girl do when she sees a party guest all alone? She marches over, introduces herself, and asks permission to join Mr.Auden on the couch. He was politeness itself, and very kind to a starstruck young woman, and gave me a memory I'll never forget.

Back to Lee Child. He says we're storytellers, not storyshowers. That old adage about "show"  and "don't tell" was hoisted on Mr. Child's most able petard.  That lead to all those other writing adages, the ones you're committed to never skewering, because you've been taught they're sacred.  I've talked with recent grads of the creative writing program, and I have to admit, they're horribly naive about the publishing world. All that lovely nurturing and encouraging just won't get them published. Sticking to the "rules" will get them nothing but rejection slips.

How I'd love to have a creative writing program that brought in wildly successful writers, the Lee Childs, the Sandra Browns, Nora Roberts, Daniel da Silva, Michael Connally - there are hundreds. I've heard quite a few of them speak (Lee Child is really good!), and they could teach young writers more in an hour than they'd learn from three months of seminars with equally naive classmates, all reading their stuff to each other.

But I am so glad I got to meet W.H. Auden.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Older Books - The Mythmaker Westerns

I'm having such fun reworking and rereading my Mythmaker westerns. These are good stories. I'm surprised at how well they've held up, to be honest.  Now that I don't have the word count restrictions their original publisher imposed, I can add what I want. At first, I thought this would be pages and pages, but it's not.

A line here and there.  A couple of sentences restructured.  Verbs changed now and then.  The story sounds more true in its original voice, and I don't want to mess with it too much.  How exciting to rediscover these tales and still love them.

I hope to have them up for Kindle this coming week. Westerns will remain my favorite genre because it's my first love, and the history still excites me.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Am I Shallow?

Am I Shallow?

Okay, I can be. Can’t we all?  But I’m on a tear about my fav authors leaving me cold, so yeah, I feel a bit like a twit.  Hear me out, however.

1. Janet Evanovitch – will grandma ever stop going to funerals? Will Ranger ever be less than sexy? Will anyone in this series get out of the 80s? I think I quit with Easy Eights? Can't remember, it was such an annoying book.

2. “C” is for Couldn’t care less.  Sue Grafton, can we talk? Talk about a mystery series that should have grown up, too.  Why is everyone emotionally frozen in one time period? I quit several books ago.

3.  This one is hard for me. Very hard. James Lee Burke is one of my favorite writers.  I finally had time to get into The Glass Rainbow, and my stars, what the heck is going on?  Clete and Dave are so down on everyone, so judgmental; I want to slap them silly. If Burke was planning on this being the last Robicheaux book, I guess he decided to out with a bang of the irredeemable and totally f****d.   Two years later, and I read he has a new Robicheaux coming out, so I guess Dave didn’t bite the big one, but who knows about Clete?  They were such downers in Rainbow I kinda wished they’d taken the boat across the River Styx.  I sure think the women in his books would be better off without the Bobbsey Twins of NOPD. I get the feeling Burke was writing everything he’s ever wanted to say in Rainbow, but does it have to be so drawn out, so hammer-to-the-brain? 

4. And then there’s Craig Johnson’s LONGMIRE series. Adored the first three books. Liked the fourth one. The fifth was, um, okay.  Haven’t gone any deeper into them.  I must be in the minority, because the books are doing great.  The  TV series, not so much my cuppa.  Love mysteries, obviously, but these feel rushed.  And Katee Sackhoff just isn’t Vic, the fiery Italian.

Need to read something that doesn’t make me want to gnash my teeth on a car bumper. Any recommendations?

Sunday, July 08, 2012

104 in the Shade

It's the end of the world.  Totally early, if you believe the Mayan calendar interpretation. (By the way, it's been shown that the Mayans were talking politics and the end of a political reign, not Armageddon.)  Four (or is it five?) straight days over 100 degrees, and averaging 102 for good measure, have been brutal on humans and plants alike. The tomatoes are gone. The dogwoods are drooping. I'm not sure the pine trees will make it, their roots are so shallow. The rains we're expecting next week are coming none too soon.

This weather makes me dream of floating in cool water hour after hour. Or sitting beside an English river, under the willows.  Having been in Sweden in the summer when it was 90 degrees, I think that one's off my wish list.  Watching movies with snow and ice (The Thing, anyone?) helps a bit.

We decided to stay away from the Daytona race because we just couldn't bear the thought of sitting in the stands in the heat and humidity. The Nationwide race on TV was killer- good for Kurt Busch, driving that beat-up car to a win through the wreck-fest that's called a Daytona race.  The Cup race Saturday, not so interesting.

If it sounds as if I've been griping about the the weather and trying to pretend I can get cool by thinking cool thoughts, that about sums up my activities since the Fourth.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Lifted this from one of my daughters. Good advice.  Even better, it's a command worth following.    Good writers do this, is my firm belief. Struggling to find your voice as a writer isn't easy.  Whatever is truly important to  you finds its way into a manuscript, whether you want it there or not, and getting it down exactly is only the result of many rewrites.  Just try keeping your beliefs out of a story, and you're dead in the water. Sure, characters run away and do their own thing, so to speak, and as the writer, you sit back and say, OK, I'll see where you're heading, and if I don't like it, you're history.  Allowing a fictional person to act like a jerk doesn't mean you cotton to the power of jerk-ness.  It just means the story needs that vinegar to get the hero going on the right path.  All very obtuse, but if you're a writer, you know what I mean.

The soul-scorching heat this week has sapped whatever sanity I once possessed.  I'm either cowering in the AC, bemoaning the fact it's 102 in the shade, or wandering my desert-like yard, sweating through every inch of clothing, as I try to save what few plants haven't croaked.  The day lilies are gone, with a few exceptions, the rose bushes look peaked, (a Southern expression meaning they're not in good humor), the flower boxes droop pathetically, and the grass has given up the ghost. We have West Texas hard pan out there now. Even the weeds have given up the ghost.  Can't wait for the rains to come. And they will.  Just as the next sentence will come when a story seems stuck.  I believe in the power of words and rain.

Monday, July 02, 2012

A Book Recommendation

Seldom, if ever, do I get up at 5 a.m. and stay up to read someone else's book. Normally, I'm working on my own computer at that hour before the melee of the day begins. But today I took the dogs, Barb Morgenroth's WAITING FOR YOU, and my cuppa tea to the deck, and didn't move until the carpenters showed up at 8 and caught me in my jammies. Shocked them silly. Me too, since I didn't realize I'd been there three hours.

Go forth and buy this ebook. If you like romance of the adult variety, by which I mean emotional depths and not porn, buy it. Let me be clear, buy this book!