Goin’ on a Moose Hunt

My family and friends think I am obsessed with moose.  That’s an exaggeration, but it is true that I collect any and all things moose.  For example, I have a favorite signing pen, which is made from moose antlers.  I also have moose-shaped earrings, stuffed moose, moose paintings, moose bookmarks, moose appliques, moose ornaments, moose potholders, books about moose, and…  Well, you get the idea.  Maybe they’re right, and maybe it is a slight obsession.  


I am not sure why it began, but when I first spotted a moose in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies some years ago, it was love at first sight.  I’ve been looking for them ever since.  Lucky for me, the moose population here in Colorado has been thriving in recent years.  

So, imagine my delight when my publisher provided me with the title for a Nell Letterly mystery:  Murder by Moose.  

Yes, research!!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides a wealth of information, starting here:  


A tiny town in northern Colorado, just west of Rocky Mountain National Park, is considered the moose capital of Colorado.  There’s even a moose visitor center:  


Here are five fun facts I’ve learned about moose:  

  1. Moose used to live in Virginia.  
  2. Sometimes a moose has to kneel on its front legs to drink, as they’re longer than their back legs.  
  3. Bull moose aren’t the only ones with dewlaps (those beards that hang down).  Even cows and calves have short ones.  
  4. A frightened moose can run as fast as 35mph.
  5. Moose have excellent hearing–they can move one ear at a time and hear voices a mile away.  It’s not likely we can sneak up on a moose! 

As this posts, I will be up there looking for my buddies once again.  

Do you have a favorite wild animal, too?    


Housekeeping 101 for Writers

“Little by little” is the secret of success!

Monday:  Laundry Day

Starting the week behind.  No sweat, I’ll catch up. 

  •  Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words on Work in Progress.
  • More coffee.  Start the 1st load of wash, which reminds me of the quip my aunt’s parakeet used to say:  “Got to get the wash in.”  This also reminds me to work more on that scene with the parrot in WIP.  
  • Didn’t the washer ever beep?  When did it become time for dinner??  Okay, it looks like leftovers.  Good thing, since the fridge needs cleaning, anyway.  
  • After dinner, remember to transfer wash to dryer, then read until falling asleep. (repeat every night)

Tuesday:  Floors

Where is the rest of my clean laundry?

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words about the parrot. 
  • More coffee.  Parrot scene leads to turning point.  Can’t stop now. 
  • Got to stop long enough to call Hubby to bring home carry-out.  
  • Set the timer for one hour and push the sweeper through the main paths of the house.  When the timer goes off, STOP!  Now you don’t have to go to the gym, and you can get back to work on the WIP.  

Wednesday:  Dusting

Oh good, the cat threw up on my “clean” floor.  

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words that flowed. 
  • More coffee.  Oh no!  The truth is that yesterday’s words s**k big time.  
  • Set the timer for one hour while you wave the dust wand around and listen to a book on tape.  
  • Good books inspire you to get back to the keyboard.  Now you know how to fix that scene.  

Thursday:  Errands

Most of the dust bunnies blew under the couch, anyway.  

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s rewrite.  
  • More coffee.  Push ahead with more words, no matter what you think about them.  
  • You can call it “errand day,” but it’s really your day to go out and explore.  Writers have to fill the well, after all.  Maybe head to the zoo, where you can watch parrots in action.  

Friday:  Bathrooms

The drycleaning can always wait till next week’s “errand day.” 

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words.
  • More coffee.  Incorporate some of your ideas from yesterday’s adventures into WIP.  
  • Disinfectant wipes are your friends.  Use them liberally across the bathroom after your shower.  
  • Back to the keyboard.  Book isn’t so bad, after all, and there are only a few more chapters to go.  

Weekend:  Kitchen

Oops, missed a few spots, didn’t I?

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s flood of new words.  
  • More coffee.  Keep going.  
  • Remember those disinfectant wipes?  They work in the kitchen, too.  
  • Back to the keyboard.  The end is in sight.  

*sigh*  Who needs a clean house, anyway?  Guests will understand.  It’s a writer’s life!  

A Western Writer’s Notebook

What do you do when you’re between writing projects?  

Usually I switch to another project, but this time I’m filling the well with random stuff.  One such opportunity arose for me a couple weeks ago when we took the mother of all road trips.  

Most of the time, our road trips only take us as far as the airport, but this time we were driving Lilah Dog to her family in their new home.  Colorado to South Carolina, and back again.  


Lilah is happy because she gets to go, and she’s content with her nose in the air vent.  I’m happy, too, because family awaits us at the end of the road.  Along the way, I love seeing new regions.  Here are a dozen surprises I noted in my notebook:  

  1.  In Colorado we observe altitude.  Here in Boulder, it’s around 5400 feet.  The elevation doesn’t start to drop until about 50 miles from the state line.  I’d had no idea western Kansas is as high as 4,000 feet! 
  2.  In the west, we have wide, open spaces, and drivers often need to be aware of how far it is until the next gas stop.  Kansas City feels to me like the end of the west, because everything changes from here on.  
  3. The Mississippi River breaks the back of the road trip–in each direction.  Crossing the river makes me feel as if our destination is finally reachable.  
  4. East of the river, the states get smaller, denser, with lots more traffic.  And wow, the lushness!  It’s mostly deciduous trees, not just pines.  (And kudzu, another story.)  
  5. The kudzu starts in Kentucky, and then a stranger “sweethearts” us in Nashville.  We are clearly not in Boulder anymore.  We are in the south.  
  6. A wall of trucks careens madly across the mountains into North Carolina–is there only one highway across here?  I don’t know.  I can no longer read the road map.  It’s too dense on account of so many towns. 
  7. South Carolina has a state insect–the praying mantis.  (I think it should be cicadas, which make my head ring with their constant background chorus!)
  8. At the lake house in Georgia, I discover that watercolor paints don’t dry as soon as my brush touches paper.  In fact, the paint is still not dry when I’m ready to do the next layer.  This requires learning some new techniques.  
  9. We cross the “eastern continental divide” at Cashiers, North Carolina (I wonder where it got its name?)  It’s such a lovely town.  Elevation 3400 feet.  I’d had no idea there’s an eastern divide.  
  10.  Heading west again, we find that Arkansas has more than just the Ozarks.  It has the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced as if it’s spelled Washita–the way it is spelled in Oklahoma).  
  11.  I’m pretty sure we are coming to the end of the earth northwest of Amarillo, and then we see two lumps on the horizon–Rabbit Ears, part of the volcanic region in New Mexico.  
  12.  From the top of Capulin Volcano, we can see 5 states:  New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  The vastness takes my breath away.  BTW, cinder cone volcanoes, such as 60,000-year-old Capulin, never erupt again from the same vent.  One less thing to worry about!  

I can only imagine an easterner’s perspective traveling west.  What are some of your impressions of your regions?   


Whose Book Is It?

I recently finished the third draft of my novel-in-progress.  That’s a milestone, but there’s still a long way to go before the book is done, due to this argument I’m having with my characters:  whose book is it?  

As the author, I have a certain vision for this book:  

Character A is the protagonist. 

Character B is the antagonist. 

Character C is the villain.  (Sometimes B and C are the same, but in this book they’re different.)

Character D is an important, albeit secondary character.  

A is pushed to grow and change by B, aided by D, but nearly foiled by C.  

It’s clearly A’s book, right?  (Or maybe it’s mine, since I’m the author.)  

As writers, we decide the fate of our characters.  

As readers, we evaluate how characters behave.  If they’re not behaving “in character,” it’s the kiss of death.  

There’s been a lot of discussion on this blog about the writing process of plotting vs pantsing.  But no matter how we write—either with detailed outlines or by the seat of our pants—characters don’t come alive until we writers let them act out on the page.  

That’s when anything can happen.  Sometimes the characters don’t cooperate with the writer’s vision.  We create characters in our heads and sometimes capture them in lengthy, jotted notes.  But when we give them a problem and a goal and then set them loose to tackle these issues in their own, individual way, they don’t always end up in the place where we envisioned them going.  

And then, what?  

If writers try to straitjacket their characters, readers will probably accuse the characters of behaving out of character.  

Early on in this recent draft of mine, Character D tried to hijack the novel.  I had to assert myself as the writer and tell D, “This isn’t your book.  You’re just a secondary, although granted, important character.”  

D agreed with that, but then tried to negotiate for a book about D.  I wasn’t interested, and D did not care for the ending of draft 3 that I had in mind.  

“Look, D,” I argued, “this is the way it’s gotta end.”  

So what did D do?  D elicited the help of A, B, and C, and they all fell flat (except for D).  A, B, and C were not behaving “in character.”  

Okay.  So D wins, and I have to go back to work on a brand-new draft.  We’ll see what happens.  The character always wins in the end. 

Cherry Season!

It’s cherry season at my house.  This week I picked my first bowl of cherries, under supervision of Lilah.  Alas, there were no squirrels.      

Some years ago we planted a plum tree, a Montmorency cherry, and a dwarf cherry tree.  They grew along with our children, and every summer we enjoyed the bounty:  2 or 3 fresh cherry pies, 10-12 frozen pints, a couple dozen jars of jelly, and fresh plums in lunch boxes every day, most of September.  There were even enough cherries to share with neighbors, the squirrels, the magpies, and the bears (although the bears preferred the plums). 

All this came to a fever pitch one summer when one of my daughters asked me to make cherry jelly as favors for her wedding.  


I made 150 small jars that time.  In the process, I spilled so much boiling water that I ended up destroying one of the burners on my stove.  Oh well.  New stove = new kitchen remodel (another story).  

Now we have fewer cherries to deal with, thanks to a couple of nasty weather years recently, and honestly, I’m grateful.  I have to get them before the squirrels do, and hopefully next week there will be enough cherries left to make jelly.  Making jelly, instead of jam, is the easiest way to deal with cherries because I don’t have to pit them. 

Here’s how I do it:  

  1. Pick enough cherries to fill a large mixing bowl.  
  2. Wash the cherries, strain into spaghetti pot, add ½ cup water, bring to boil, cover & simmer 10 minutes.  
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the jelly jars, lids, and rings by boiling them 10 minutes, then remove to a towel.  The jars will need to be hot at the time of filling, in order to seal, so it’s all about timing.  
  4. Line a large bowl with 3 layers of cheesecloth, making sure the ends extend far enough to twist over the cherries, squeezing juice.  Add a little water, if necessary, to make 5 cups of juice.  
  5. Stir in 1 box of pectin to the juice and bring to a full, roiling boil on high, stirring constantly. 
  6. Stir in exactly 4 cups of sugar, return to full boil, and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.  
  7. Remove from heat, skim off foam. 
  8. Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling up to ¼ inch from top, wipe off rims, add lids & rings & twist them securely.  
  9. As the jars cool, their lids seal with a pop, and then I tighten the rings a little more.  
  10. Any that don’t seal have to go in the refrigerator and be used first—enjoy! 

The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Dog

I write like the tortoise.  The other day I wrote a whopping 9—count them—words.  But I write every day, no matter what. 

Occasionally this tortoise has to act like a hare, sprinting to the finish line.  I did that last week, wrapping up the draft of the Work In Progress for a deadline.  One day last week I wrote more than 3,000 words, or about 12 pages.  Guess I had a lot to say that day.  

I know a bunch of writers whose style is always to write like the hare, sprinting to the end of their projects, and then they write nothing for days—sometimes weeks or months.  I’ve worked that way, too (i.e, last week), and occasionally I’ve missed a day of writing.  This kind of change to my schedule makes me uncomfortable.  I much prefer being the tortoise.  Nine words aren’t much, but I always get to the end—eventually.    

So, where does the dog come into this story?  

Recently, our granddog, Lilah, arrived.  She is staying with us about a month while her family is in transition to a new home. Lilah has lived on three continents in her 14 years, and now is a little arthritic.  But she’s happy, easy-going, and a delight in our household.  Even Scout the Cat adores Lilah (although she’d never admit it).  The cat has kept an eye on the dog ever since her arrival.  


And sometimes the dog notices the cat, too. 

It’s been a while since we’ve had a dog in the house, and I had forgotten what pet guardians often say:  “a dog is a companion, and a cat is a roommate.”  Lilah is like any child who’s missing her parents—she needs a little extra coddling.  It changes my writing schedule, but pampering her is worth it.  Besides, the tortoise will always get there in the end.  

Which is your style—tortoise or hare?  


Recently I had a conversation with one of my art teachers, and it started me thinking about this subject of aspirations.  

My teacher is a pro artist, and she’s at a place in her career where she doesn’t need (or desire) to exhibit her work.  Exhibiting takes a lot of time and effort–as does marketing for writers.  She’d rather spend her time creating art.  

As a writer, I can relate to that.  My time seems more limited now than ever before.  Time is so precious, and personally, I’d rather spend it creating new stories instead of trying to sell the ones I’ve already written.  I’m lucky to have that choice now–it’s a luxury, and it hasn’t always been that way.  

But back to my art teacher…  It seems to me that creating art is a personal journey.  A beginning artist may not want the world to see his/her creation and perhaps would never dream of aiming to sell.  When I started painting, it was for the sheer pleasure and sense of fulfillment of creating those stick figures.  Go figure!  

But I’m not sure it’s the same for a writer.  Why does a writer write, if not to share those tales with an audience one day?  Sure, there’s pleasure and fulfillment and all sorts of personal rewards, but I’ve never met a single *fiction* writer who hasn’t looked forward to reaching a marketable level one day.  

Of course it’s different for everyone.  As for me, I aspire to capturing those fleeting stories that dance around in my head the best way I know how, and then making them available for a potential audience.  That’s about it.  The next book, which comes out later this fall, will pretty much have to find its own way in the marketplace, which is pretty similar to my teacher’s position with her lovely art.  

 What about you?  What do you aspire to?