Howling at the Moon

Copyright Valerie Gache, AFP, Getty Images

Oh, but to be a RoadBroad eyeballing this moon view at the Temple of Apollo in Corinth, Greece! 

That red‐orange orb, captured earlier today, is a Super Blood Wolf Moon. The same image, sans the Temple, will rise across North America at 11:16 p.m., Houston time. Add an hour for the Yankees. Subtract two for the Westies.

With clear skies and cold temperatures forecast, it promises a memorable night of sky viewing. Lasting an hour long, it’s the last of its kind until 2021.

The description “super blood” comes not from astronomers but from copywriters. Two reasons why:

Who wants to say “total lunar eclipse” when the moon’s orange‐red color looks like, well, blood?

Super’ slides in because the moon looks 14 percent larger than normal. It’s closer to Earth than usual for an eclipse. But it’s not actually bigger.

Ancient peoples dubbed the first full moon of the year as Wolf Moon. All that wolf howling in January. Why? High mating season for wolves. In the cold?

All these factoids led DH, the astronomy buff, to inform me that we won’t need his telescope for lunar viewing tonight. This big, bright, wolf moon requires only binoculars. Good. Easier maneuvering out the back window. Warmer, too.

Staying up after midnight might be problematic. Make that ‘will be.’

This Wolf Moon correlates perfectly with the man I married. He’s a real‐life Wolf. But my love doesn’t howl. Not in January. And never in public.

But I almost howled last week when a knock‐me‐flat cold did just that. Onset came less than 24 hours after a career‐rejuvenating writing intensive. Did the virus have something to do with completing a novel outline, consolidating 31 chapter opens/closes, locking down 11 character descriptions, and setting a first‐draft completion date—all in only four days?

The question brings me to the real point of this entire blog post about tonight’s moon.

Full moons offer completion. End of a cycle, stage, or phase. Pick your word. Astrologers say full moons are a perfect time to celebrate growth, note progress, and reflect on how far you’ve come.

Now cold‐recovered, I’m celebrating, noting, and reflecting.

And through the magic promised on this blog on January 1st, I’m starting over.

Happy New Year, January 20th.

Three months from Final‐First‐Draft Day.

Here we go…again.

Second chances always offer my best results.

Fighting Altitude with Attitude

The Rev. Pat Clark

NOTE: Today’s guest blog post comes from fellow writer, The Rev. Pat Clark. She’s had 10 days to review her 10‐day writing retreat in Boulder. 

A Presbyterian minister and spiritual director, Rev. Clark is currently writing a book about surviving stage 4 cancer through faith and kindergarten art.

We’re particularly grateful for Pat. Every week, she graciously hosts the Wednesday Writers in her home. Her brave struggle with cancer and her creative determination to fight back with art and words inspires us all. Thank you, dear friend! — Melanie & Ellen


Fighting Altitude with Attitude

It was no easy task to get to Boulder for Max’s writing retreat. First off there was a luggage factor – CPAP machine, computer, printer, art supplies, journals, a notebook with source material and another that had been green‐lined. That means decorated with a LOT of things I had to change for the next step in getting it published. Add to that clothes and toiletries. I felt triumphant that I made it on the airplane in one big bag with a backpack.

We were all excited to meet one another at the Dunshanbe Teahouse on opening night. We tried exotic foods, sat outside beside a rushing river and smelled the fragrance of a million roses that lined the path to the entrance. Oh, the anticipation of writing!

The climate was a wonderful gift for the seven of us from Texas, or so I thought. The problem came when I tried to walk very far. In only a few minutes I was huffing and puffing and having to stop on nearby benches sprinkled all over town.

Things worsened when I tried to sleep. I didn’t get much. Altitude! Those beautiful mountains have a downside. Finally I tried a tincture of CBD that helped me relax but not sleep. The retreat became a test of endurance more than a retreat. I can do this! became my mantra.

Ready for another small group session at the Boulder Bookstore.

Nonetheless I finished editing my book, wrote the final chapter, and launched a new endeavor to write about travel. There were amazing moments – insights during a Max Regan lecture, the beauty of peony bushes, the funkiness of Pearl Street with its flame throwers and musicians, the Hotel Boulderado, meals with other writers, solid help with my work, and the amazing writing that was shared in our salons every other night. I loved it!

I decided after the first day or two that I could lie around and whine about my sleep issues, or I could just do what I came to do–learn, write and have a good time. That is exactly what I did!

Things are rarely perfect in life, but I do have a choice in how to respond to them. Now that I am safely home in Houston, I am profoundly grateful for the writers’ retreat and everything I learned and experienced in Boulder.

I am also grateful for a good night’s sleep in my own bed.

A Journey Ends…

…as a new one begins.

Details on all that later. For tonight — after 21 hours of driving across three states in two days — I’m home, ready to sleep in my own bed after 17 days and 2703 miles.

A lot of numbers to absorb, eh?

Maybe that’s why I’m e‐x‐h‐a‐u‐s‐t‐e‐d. But, overall, it’s good tired.

Rummaging through Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City may be key.

To the right here is one corner of one room of one of his treasure‐packed stores. All are used books and/or literary classics and collectibles. Imagine looking at row after row of 14‐foot high bookcases; pile after pile of reading treasures. Overwhelm rises in your bones. The smell of old books wafts up to your nose and you remember when you first discovered the joy of the written, printed word. Intensity grows, the feelings of overwhelm magnified by more books than you’ve ever seen in one place. Magnify the overwhelm by a factor of ten.

I’m proud of myself — I left Larry’s place with only four books.

That’s because this was my fourth bookstore in four days. My car already has two bulging sacks of books awaiting my reading delight. Such joy, however, can only be indulged after unpacking, laundry, groceries, errands, phone calls and everything else I walked away from last month.

Why does May seem like two years ago now? Why does my recently‐finished writing retreat feel like an alternate universe?

Alas, tough questions and mixed‐up senses for a late night. Meanwhile, my bed beckons. I anticipate a wonderful night of sleep on the one mattress that knows all my body’s nooks and crannies.

Tomorrow, one last look at my recent past with a preview of my blogging future.

Tonight marks my shortest RoadBroad post. You understand why?

Adieu, Boulder

Tomorrow, Ellen and I awake before sunrise and say “adieu” to Boulder, exchanging our temporary abode for Home.

Despite two enchanting weeks here, I miss the comfort, familiarity, and routines of my Sugar Land home. Most especially life with my kind and generous DH! Still, there’s a magic that only Boulder can generate. That’s a major admission for this Taos passion‐ista.

That heart‐thumping magic manifested itself again today, this time in hyper‐productive form. Ellen and I wrote like storytelling fiends all day. I took a short break to lunch with special family members from Ft. Collins (shout‐out to ML, D & E) and returned to complete significant progress on my WIP (‘work in progress’).

Surrendering to the Boulder siren call of words, words, words…

Perhaps we’re both desperate for a few more hours of clear, clean storytelling. Remnants of a tropical wave await our Sunday return to Houston. But first, any worries surrounding rainfall yet to arrive comes after what lies immediately ahead: 20 hours of weekend driving across three states. How do you hold onto the magic of a writing retreat amid the potential train of contained chaos coming toward us?

It begins with remembering. And here are mine — to remember tonight, across the next two days, and onto the life yet to come — the most powerful learnings of a ten‐day writing retreat. 

  1. While it’s trite, it’s that because it’s true: persistence pays off. Evidence: seven years of periodic work on a single essay yields finalist status. This pumps the ego to keep working hard on this novel that’s talked to me for 11 long, busy years.
  2. The craft of writing requires a lifetime of learning and devotion, a commitment I renewed in these Colorado mountains. Those who claim mastery follows 10,000 hours of practice are naive. If you’re good at storytelling, mastery never comes because you refuse to stop learning.
  3. Community enriches a writer’s life and all her projects. To wit:
Houston’s Wednesday Writers reunited again!

Members of the Wednesday Houston group celebrate crafting stories together since January, 2017. The Boulder retreat marked the first time we five have bonded in such an extended, intensive writing experience. Our writing Wednesdays will never be the same!

It’s one thing to have a writing community in the town where you live. I’m beyond blessed to be involved with three such special groups.

The Boulder Fiction writing group enjoys corner porch dining at Chatauqua DIning Hall. How did all my tribes land here for such a special dinner?

To come to a writing retreat in another state and discover six storytelling soulmates is beyond a blessing. It’s grace in action, a concept our beloved Max Regan talks about. It’s a grace that comes not because you seek it. Instead, this kind of special grace finds you and touches you gently — and silently — on your shoulder when you’re not looking. Sweet.

4. Living a life as a full‐time writer is worth the energy it demands. I return to Houston changed and committed. There’s a project awaiting my completion with an audience awaiting my story and a supportive crowd cheering every mile marker I pass. In eleven years of working on my debut novel, I’ve never felt so energized. It’s that Boulder air.

For the light‐hearted learnings, it’s:

  1. Friends can remain friends even after sharing house for ten days.
  2. Colorado trees and my nose are not friends. Not going to happen. Ever.
  3. Never buy unbranded gasoline. Unless you want a coach rescue.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t kill the dog. Oops, that’s a big sorrysorry to my ex.

One of these blog posts, I’ll figure out how to do bulleted numbers that look right on your screen. That’s a big sorrysorry to you, dear reader.

For now, it’s dinnertime followed by packing all those things I had to haul to the mountains. All those vitals I never touched.

Bedtime will be late tonight, like another evening two weeks ago. Alas, I never learn. When sleep comes, it will no doubt offer another “journey proud” evening. Allie smiles from her perch.

Two days of driving is enough to put anyone on edge a little, eh? Begging forgiveness in advance from Ellen, fellow RoadBroad and car mate. Next I suggest: let’s go home, renewed.

Our stories await.

Privilege Writing for Ten Days

NOTE: This is the second in a series of guest blog posts. Today’s guest blogger is Diana Galindo, who we lovingly dubbed our newest RoadBroad. She shared our Boulder house after riding with us from Denver. Together, we three journeyed all over Boulder, traveling by car, bus, or foot depending on the road crisis du jour (and yes, there were several). 

RoadBroads @ Ozo’s: (from left to right) Melanie Ormand, Ellen Seaton, and Diana Galindo.

Diana Galindo was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia. She divides her time between her beloved Cochabamba and the home she shares in Houston with her daughter and husband. Diana is writing a historical fiction novel inspired by her Bolivian family. She also blogs about food and health, sharing recipes and menus as a path to wellness at www.colormyfood.com. 

Thank you, Diana, for joining our RoadBroads blog today!

- Melanie and Ellen


Privilege Writing for Ten Days

Effusive red, pink, yellow and white roses led up to the Dushanbe Teahouse. The beautiful ceramic tile exterior and hand‐carved columns, the workmanship of more than 40 Tajik artists, make it a perfect setting for creative energy. Presented to Boulder’s by its sister city Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan), it upholds the ancient tradition of Central Asian teahouses as gathering places. Just as travelers of the Silk Road met in teahouses across Tajikistan, to our table this summer evening arrived travelers from the east and west coasts, from Texas and Colorado. The exotic cuisine with flavorprints from around the globe was a sensory feast and invited our imagination. The stage was set. For the next ten days this Writer’s Retreat put our identity as writers in the center of our lives.

2nd floor area of the Boulder Bookstore

The next morning I arrived at the Boulder Bookstore. Where Dushanbe Teahouse had delighted my senses and teased my imagination, the Boulder Bookstore gave me a sense of homecoming. My soul stirred as I entered the old building lined with bookshelves, Books beckoned; I couldn’t resist stepping closer to the shelves and noticed that dozens of books had “Staff Recommends” notes. Fascinated I quickly skimmed a few, but conscious that the first writing session was beginning, I headed upstairs scanning bookshelves that surrounded me every step of the way to the far end of the second floor. In an enclave to the right was a long table. Max Regan, our writing coach, greeted each of us with his characteristic enthusiasm.

Max invited us to practice active deep listening, to put presence before productivity, to consider mastery as a curved line of constant pursuit and continuation as accomplishment. He had us list things we’ve accomplished as writers thus fueling the positive from the onset.

Capturing writing wisdom from the one‐and‐only Max Regan.

Oh the joy and gratitude for the next 10 days! We explored cartography, mapping out our writing projects, from utopian maps where “here be dragons”, to navigational maps with intentional waypoints for a readers’ journey. “Sometimes we need to explore vast territories before we can draw our map. The exploration is what changes us as writers. The journey is what changes the reader,“ said Max.

Our days had a rhythm – Small Group sessions, extensive chunks of personal writing time, one‐on‐one coaching with Max.

In Small Group we worked on dialogue, character and setting.

What is the moment that matters in each chapter?

What experience do we want our reader to have?

How do we use dialogue in this scene?

How is the protagonist transformed?

We practiced experiential techniques and tapped into the braintrust of the group to strengthen a story, solve a problem, flush out a character.

Evenings we shared dinner and participated in a time‐honored salon. Beginning in the Enlightenment, salons were artistic and intellectual gatherings. The sense of community and trust made our current salons a highlight of the retreat. Writers would read from their text, ask an author question and receive feedback to help shape and strengthen their work.

As our Writer’s Retreat came to an end, Max asked us to reflect on how we spent the week. “ What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What works? What doesn’t?”

He invited us to integrate the next steps of our project with a calendar and reminds us, “Breathe into the idea that not everything is a book.” In closing, Max said, “Do not lose what you found here in Boulder. If you lose it, it’s a choice,” then left us with a quote from Mark Nepo: Effort only readies us for grace as grace can never be planned or willed only entered.

I entered grace these past ten days and I stay focused on continuation as accomplishment, profoundly grateful for the benefit of Max’s teaching.

If this amazing opportunity sounds tempting, registration for the 2019 Boulder Writer’s Retreat opens July 1st. Please find details here:

http://www.hollowdeckpress.com/writing-classes/writing-retreats/

Self‐Care Matters

My assignment at 7 p.m. last night was to sleep for a few hours then awake and post here.

It’s 4:30 a.m.

Ahem.…that’s a little later than planned. Yet, the last 9.5 hours marked my best sleep of the past two weeks. And I’m still groggy. As in my body’s not done with its 40 winks tonight/this morning. 

There’s a message here: my body needs a major rest. Two stimulating weeks involving a 1300‐mile road trip and an hyper‐invigorating writing retreat will cry out for good sleep at some point. That point came last night. 

But…it’s my turn to post on RoadBroads. I promised Ellen.

I arise out of commitment, devotion, and frustration. Continued sleep will elude until the third necessary is answered.

Thus, dear reader, I offer preliminary pictures from yesterday’s Denver excursion. They provide partial explanation for the good‐tired.

Tattered Cover in Denver: more stacks than any reader can count.
Take a guess: how many new books are stuffed in this one sack?
Done lingering, aunt and niece head to the ice cream stand, walking toward Denver’s handsome skyline.
Olinger mortuary become Linger restaurant when new owners blacked out the “O.”

Linger Restaurant was a must‐stop for a pair of ladies with a Memphis funeral business in the family heritage. We refilled our water from brown bottles once used for organ storage and ordered drinks from an old metal patient chart. Toe tags used to mark the drinks but they were gone yesterday. Too macabre a memory for some? I missed that part of the adventure.

It’s back to bed I go, the call of duty answered, potential guilt assuaged.

The CPAP lets a snore machine sleep well.

Tomorrow — oops, make that today’s — post will focus on my learnings from a writing retreat. First is how to manage this ongoing body‐mind hum.

What a time for my writing life!

Try and Try Again

NOTEFor a fun change of pace, we invited several of our fellow retreat writers to write guest posts for our blog.

Here’s the first such post. It comes courtesy of our dear friend and fellow writer, Dorothy Van Soest. She has written three novels and is actively writing her fourth. Check out her work at dorothyvansoest.com. In a previous life, Dorothy chaired the Department of Social Work at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Thank you, Dorothy, for joining our RoadBroads team today!

—Melanie and Ellen


When Persistence Pays Off

With trademark focus and determination, Dorothy Van Soest updates the ongoing Sylvia saga.

To subscribe to the RoadBroads blog, check each box that has a storefront in it. Check. Check. Check.

I click on the continue icon. The words “try again” pop up on my computer screen. What? How could I have failed such a simple test? I try again.

This time the instructions are different. Check each box that has a road sign in it. Sounds easy enough. But I’m nervous. What if I fail again?

I click on a box that clearly has a street sign on it. No problem. But what about the box with only a partial street sign on it. Does that count? Should I check it? I take the chance. A few more checks and I hold my breath, then click the continue button. I passed! I’m in!

I go to the blog and start reading. Trust me, it is worth it!

What a delight to join the trek of two women across three states, from Houston to Boulder.

What a grand accounting of their experiences in Boulder, the taste of the town, the challenges and joys of being here, what it’s like to be in community with fellow writers of which I am honored to be a member.

What a delight it is to open an email every morning that directs me to their latest adventures.

Thank you, Melanie and Ellen, for bringing us all into your lives and experiences.

And for those of you who are thinking of subscribing, believe me it’s worth it, even if you have to try…and try again.

Tea Houses, Flatirons, and Salons

There is nothing like the weather and scenery of Boulder to provide inspiring places for meeting and getting inspired about writing. I have already written about the Boulder Bookstore.

Now I have had a meeting with my writing coach on the patio of the Dushanbe Teahouse sipping fresh brewed teas while surrounded by beautiful roses.

What isn’t inspirational in that kind of a setting? Of course it helps that I finally have a solid story outline, I know where the story begins, where it ends, and what has to happen in between. Now all l have to do is start filling in all of the spaces and ideas I have outlined. It is very energizing to get to this point. Before this, my story was just this amorphous blob of an idea that sat in my mind without a good form. On with the first draft!

After my meeting at the Teahouse, I could not help but walk along the park and soak in the beautiful Boulder surroundings.

I keep taking pictures of the Flatirons as if I am afraid that they will disappear before I have admired them enough. It also helps that once I leave the park I know I am welcomed in Boulder because they have special crossing signs just for people like me. The good news is not everyone in Boulder is 20‐something and climbing mountains every day. Some of us just want to go for a walk in the park and cross the street safely.

Tonight I did get my chance at reading at the salon. I picked out a selection that I wrote several years ago. I dusted it off, re‐wrote, and edited several spots. The good news is that when I look at pieces I wrote several years ago, I can see that I have in fact grown as a writer. I have had a wonderful teacher in Max Regan and a wonderful writing support group in Houston. I felt good about my reading tonight and I received some very good feedback from the other attendees. It all inspires me to keep moving forward with my creative work.

But first, I need another good night of sleep and I have been sleeping really great in all of this clean mountain air!

Sweet Dreams!

Dog Days

Today was about the dogs. They showed up twice in 20 minutes. 

The first dog sighting came in a quick stop on a goat hunt. Ellen swears Diana and I resemble bouncing mountain goats. Have you seen them? They’re the Internet‐famous baby goats hopping around an Alpian farm. When I heard of Boulder’s Laughing Goats cafe, I had to find out if I fit in. Plus get a picture of the goats for Ellen. Maybe I could hop and laugh?

Dogs like goats? Or is it only a water thing?

Instead, I found this.

The dog bowl would seem a disappointment. Instead, I saw a thread.

Writers are, among other things, seamstresses. We search for threads with which to sew a story. Sometimes those threads come from multiple places.

After the Laughing Goat, I had one more thread to find.

I walked to the Trident Cafe in search of a real‐life dog.

In 2011, I witnessed the heroic Dylan. That’s what I dubbed the golden retriever mix who stumbled down the sidewalk then stopped in front of the Trident Cafe. Make that “was stopped at the cafe.” Dylan was draped in a complicated contraption of leashes, harnesses, collars, and dog boots–all colored a cruel cobalt blue. I watched for several painful minutes as his master tugged, dragged, and yanked her dog down the sidewalk before shoving him against the Trident’s outside wall. Dylan laid against the brick building and baked in the sun as his owner went inside the cafe. I watched, horrified. Then walked away. Seven years later, the images — and my choice — haunt.

In planning this writing retreat, I had an odd mission to look for Dylan. Call it one of those things. This time, I’d do the right thing.

The Trident today held no Dylan, of course. Waiting instead was cobalt blue:

Cobalt blue haunts Trident Cafe dog.

Logo. Awning. Sky.

I am glad Dylan was gone. I pray he’s out of pain, no longer defined by cobalt blue.

The Dylan story and all this rambling about dogs and goats in a writer’s life must strike you as weird. If so, I am glad. Because that’s the job of a writer. To make others uncomfortable. Stories do that as we novelists and essayists and others of the writing life gather threads to create stories that impact your life somehow.

Interesting that this shirt chose me this morning. Upon awakening, I lacked full understanding of the importance surrounding today’s mission. The t-shirt’s words best explain this seamstress metaphor.

Weird People. Writers. Artists. Dreamers. Outsiders. Pretty Special People. Can I say that?

I only sought a goat and a dog, never knowing I’d end up with two dogs and a blog post. And a really strange tale about the writing life.

Sherlock would be delighted my dedicated efforts at observation.

Somewhere my mother laughs.

I failed the sewing badge in Girl Scouts.

Writing!

A pocket watch, a turtle, and an elephant walk into a bar.…..wait, that’s not right.

What do a pocket watch, a turtle, and an elephant have in common? I have no idea…yet…but I am using them as writing prompts.

So goes the beginning of our writing retreat which meets in the wonderful Boulder Bookstore.

After our first meeting on Saturday, I spend Sunday morning at the townhouse getting inspired by my three prompts. Finally, the words begin to flow and I am ready for class this afternoon. I also work on story outlines and plot points. I am ready to head out to class.

My roommates already left for their class. Everyone at the retreat is divided into three groups. Melanie and Diana are in the same group (maybe I am a little jealous not to be with them?). Oh well, we will be in some of the same writing groups when we return to Houston.

I enjoyed the few hours I have by myself at the townhouse. I am finally beginning to adjust to both the Boulder altitude and sharing house with two roommates. All three of us have been friends for a while now but have never roomed together before. Three strong, independent, assertive women. We all know what we want and how we want the universe to revolve. It is inspiring to see us adjust to each other. We are dedicated to our writing and to supporting other women writers. The room may be too cold for one or too hot for the other, but we don’t lose focus on why we are here. RoadBroads Unite!

I Uber to the bookstore. Now I’ve Ubered twice in two days. That makes me a pro. I even tipped Howard, the driver.

I walk along the Pearl Street Mall enjoying the shops and all the people. Each block seems to have its own street performer. Guitar players, drum players, even one guy standing on top of a ladder while juggling. The day felt festive.

I stop at one of the many coffee shops to get coffee and water to take with me to class. Then I enter the bookstore, walk up the stairs to the second floor and make my way back to our meeting spot in the middle of the religious/spiritual book section.

Max Regan lectures on different aspects of writing. Several of us read our writing assignments and get good solid feedback. The two hours fly by quickly and class is over.

It is now time to head out for dinner and our first salon. I walk the four blocks to the location of the salon to find a wonderful spread of salad, breads, cheeses, sliced veggies and more. There was fruit for dessert which included some of the best fresh mango I have had in a long time.

We will have several of these salon meetings during the retreat so that every writer shares some of their work with the entire group. Melanie read tonight and did a masterful job. I take a turn at reading next Thursday. I hope I can be as good as Melanie. She has set the bar very high.

Now back at the townhouse, the day is over. I am exhausted but pleased with that I have accomplished today.

Ready to do it all over again tomorrow.