Sunday, October 15, 2017

White Shadow comes to life

It’s been a long time coming, but today my work of historical fiction, White Shadow, Godmother to a Revolution became available on Amazon and will soon be available locally.  It is a story that has been haunting me since I learned about the life of Janet Mondlane during a stay in Mozambique in East Africa more than a decade ago. I first wrote it as non-fiction, then fleshed out some details and converted it to historical fiction.

When I first learned that my daughter and her family were moving to Mozambique, I had to search out a map of Africa to see where it was. It is a beautiful country with 1,500 miles of coastline on the Indian Ocean that lived under Portuguese domination for 500 years. After a decade of armed struggle, the country became independent in 1975.

White Shadow is the story of a life-long love affair that began between a young white woman with a year of high school to complete and a 31-year-old black man with a revolutionary mission.

Fiction does not come easily for me. I learned a whole lot in the course of writing this book and received invaluable help from members of my writers’ group and friends willing to give me feedback.

If you should decide to read it, and if you feel it to be worthwhile, perhaps you would be willing to tell one friend about it.

Here's a few words to give you a flavor of the book:

 She was overcome with the sense that she'd known him in another time, that somehow she was drawing this dark man toward her. Janet fell in love when she heard Eduardo Mondlane speak at a church camp in 1951. The relationship was to define the rest of her life. The agony of racial discrimination, alienation from family, the pain of separation, the fear of betrayal and even death--none of these could derai a love that just is--like the love of a child, a lover, a grandmother--the beginning and the end. With Eduardo she went halfway round the world to fight for the independence of Mozambique. White Shadow is the story of her unsung role in a brutal ten-year war effort with all its victories and defeats, moment of despair and joy. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

A good day for art work

We all knew it was coming, but even so, it wasn't much fun to wake up to a slushy, wet snow on Monday morning. Okay. It's October. It's time. Doesn't mean I'm ready! I bundled up, walked a couple of miles, did a few chores and bundled up again to head downtown to Trimble Court Artisans, a little shop peeking out of an alley that borders Old Town Square in Fort Collins. It's a coop where 50-plus artists share their talents and put in a shift or two on the retail floor each month.

I've been fortunate to be part of this amazing group of artists for several years now. It is my great pleasure to know these potters, painters, wool, wood and glass workers, jewelers, knitters and crocheters, and to watch them change and grow.

For some reason, on this gray, rainy, snowy day, their work seemed more brilliant than usual. I began taking random photos and once I got started it was hard to stop. Trimble Court has been displaying local art work for close to 45 years now. You might think that having a different artist in charge of shop-keeping twice every day would be a recipe for confusion--maybe even disaster. But it's not. That's because a calm, efficient, dedicated manager, herself an artist, keeps us all in line. If something is amiss, she has provided us with written instructions. If all else fails, she's almost always available by phone.
I was a bit soggy by the time I got to the shop today, but no matter. All that beautiful artwork was there, waiting to be admired.

Monday, October 2, 2017

At home on the range

My town is growing fast—a bit too fast for me. Years ago the Colorado State University Bull Farm, just down the road from my house, was replaced by university housing for people, not bulls. And since then more apartments have sprung up in the area and a whole new set of them are on the drawing boards, eliminating a small church, a favorite pizza spot and several other small businesses in the one-time bull farm area.

An adjacent street has become so busy that an underpass now allows walkers, cyclists and skateboarders to cross to and from the CSU campus safely, though traffic is heavy even there and users have to watch out for speeding cyclists and skateboarders around a couple of blind curves in the underpass.

Now it is important to plan extra time for a trip across town or to a neighboring community. Big city folks laugh when we complain about increasing traffic, but it’s way more than we’re used to and we’re having a bit of trouble adjusting.

That’s why, when I was invited to display my handmade notecards and bookmarks at a fundraiser to be held on a ranch outside Nunn, Colorado, I looked forward to the experience. I wasn’t disappointed.

We set off early on a cloudy Saturday afternoon and in less than half an hour of travel north and east onto the Colorado High Plains, we found ourselves on a dirt road surrounded by nothing but sky and dry grass prairie. I breathed a happy sigh. I’m so glad it’s possible to reach this nothingness so quickly, I thought. I’ve always had a thing about seeing lots of sky. Whenever I travel east across the country and the trees begin to close in, I start to feel enclosed.  On the trip home when the sky begins to open up somewhere in Iowa, I’m relieved.

It turns out that the Gillespie-Wagner Ranch isn’t really in Nunn at all.  It’s a dozen or so miles north of the little town that boasted a population of 471 in the 2000 census, but it’s the closest spot around that boasts a post office and is therefore their address.

More than 100 people showed up for “a day at the ranch” to support a non-profit organization that provides funds to help low income people complete end-of-life plans. There was a silent auction, generous pulled-pork, hamburger and all the trimmings meal provided outdoors at long tables where you had a good view of the high country to the west. Nearby, in a three-walled barn, a woodworkers, a potter, a couple of jewelry makers and clothing vendors displayed their wares and donated part of their proceeds to the fund.

I had a chance to wander around the ranch. I saw an impressive rock formation behind the homestead that surely blocks some of the wind, a constant companion on the plains. I watched cattle being herded by border collie sheep dogs and I thought about what it would be like to live out here, literally in the middle of nowhere.

The city folk from Fort Collins and Greeley took in the scenery, satisfied their appetites and opened up their pocketbooks to support rancher Dr. Jan Gillespie-Wagner’s favorite cause.

I came home happy to have spent a few hours out on the Colorado prairie. Photo courtesy of Jeff Berger.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What is an athlete?

A few days ago my daughter Kristin asked me a question. “Do you think of yourself as an athlete?”

Hmmm. I had an urge to seek a definition from google before I answered her but the google dude was not immediately available so I was on my own.

I had to say, “No.”

Then I asked, “Do you think of yourself as an athlete?” She took less time than I did to answer, “No.”

Both of us have been physically active for a long time. She was a swimmer and tennis player in high school and has been hitting the running trails for at least three decades. She has done more than a dozen marathons and more half marathons than she can count. She has been a dedicated and consistent stretcher and weight-lifter for long enough that she has beautiful rippling muscles in her arms and legs to show for it.

I’m getting a little ancient for this running game, but I’ve been at it for a few years longer than Kristin has and I plan to do it for as long as I’m able. A run in the morning makes my day.

So. Why don’t either of us see ourselves as athletes? What is an athlete anyway? I did go to the google-dude and here’s what I learned.

“An athlete is a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of exercise. Synonyms are “sportsman, sportswoman, sportsperson, jock, Olympian, runner.”

Checking on the word “athlete” the old way—in a paper dictionary, I learned that athlete is derived from the French, athlein, to contend for a prize. The meaning is listed as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility or stamina.”

Neither of us has ever had a trainer but that does not mean that we have not trained. Runners like to talk about going on “training runs,” which means that they are practicing—no doubt for the next race coming up on their schedule. We both do that but more often than not, we go out to run despite, wind, rain and cold, just because we like to. It makes us feel good. It is a time to think, a time to chat, a time to take a look around at the world and see what is going on.

I do remember being quite surprised a few years ago when someone said to me, “You look like a runner.” I liked hearing that. I hadn’t thought much about what a runner looks like, but I was happy to fit the image, at least for one person.

Maybe Kristin and I don’t think of ourselves as athletes because neither of us have dedicated a large portion of our lives to the act of running. I for one, have a hard time getting into the technicalities, though I am quite fascinated with the people who do. And it would probably do me good to do so.

So. Do you think of yourself as an athlete? Would you choose to be one? Does it matter at all how we define ourselves?

Something to think about.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What would you like to explore?

What would you like to explore?
What is important about this?
What impact will it have on you?
What would you get that you don’t have now?

Tomorrow morning I am meeting with someone who is going to ask me these questions. Right now I have very little idea about how I will answer them and just where the conversation, limited to an hour, is likely to lead.

 I just returned from a quite amazing weekend spent in Steamboat Springs, Colorado at the 25th anniversary of Literary Sojurn, a booklovers’ event attended by more than 500 people.

In a single afternoon we were treated to five well-known authors discussing their books, other peoples’ books, why they write, who influences them, and how writing has affected their lives.

So I guess it is not surprising that something I want to explore is related to the world of writing. Also, it is probably related to the imminent self-publication of White Shadow, an historical novel I’ve been working away at for ages.

I think that what I am going to tell my interviewer is that I’d like to explore, well, writing. That could include figuring out a new writing project. Should it be fiction, that does not come naturally to me, or non-fiction, which I feel more confident about tackling? I’d like to write something about women. Probably about women who run—from ordinary recreational runners to those who have dedicated their lives to training, nutrition and technique, in order to become the best they can be.

To respond to the question about why this is important to me has to do with my curiosity about what these runners have gained from running over the years, why they keep doing it as they age, and what are their hopes and dreams for the future. For the older runners: How do they deal with aging? What will replace running when they can’t do it any more? For the younger ones: how will they fit their running into career, family, other interests?

I’d like to think that I’ll be impacted by the stories these women tell. There will be similarities and there will be differences. It will be more important for some than for others. Who knows, I might even discover a nugget of a story that could grow into something longer than a chapter in a book.

What would this exploration give me that I don’t have now? I would hope for more expertise in pursuing research. More patience when it comes to writing, revising, revising again, and caring about small details. There’s nothing like practice. In the course of such a project, I’d hope to become a better writer.

Just in case you are interested, the speakers at the Steamboat Springs Literary Sojourn were:

Eowyn Ivey, new novel, To the Bright Edge of the World.
Nadia Hashimi, new novel, A House Without Windows.
Paulette Jiles, new novel, News of the World.
Robert Owen Butler, new novel, Perfume River.
Amor Towles, new novel, A Gentleman in Moscow

Chris Cleave, new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, served as a brilliant master of ceremonies.