It’s Feedback, Not Failure

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A few months ago I was figuratively balancing on the edge of a writer’s deep cauldron. Dramatic, I know, but it serves. The reason centered on my work, and whether I was paying due diligence regarding drafts, revisions, et cetera, after having received several dozens rejections to queries for my first novel, The Riven Country of Senga Munro. Yes, yes, the question answered itself, but not before I considered drowning myself in said cauldron.

Diagon Alley metal art hangs by my writing cabin door, of a pointy-hatted witch stirring  her pot–a useful metaphor for the creative impulse; writing as magical endeavor, except, it’s not. Still, I always touch the cauldron before entering my space to work. Ritual as necessary ingredient.  

A writing friend asked me one day last winter how the revision was going. I mumbled something vague, or likely incoherent, but her pointed question (like the hat) niggled, and I set about finally getting down to it, seriously (read scraping the bottom of the cauldron for baked-on, or half-baked phrasing), and, in the end, cut 16,000 words from the first novel. I swear I hear heavy sighing from the overwrought file. Failure, in the form of declines (my preferred word), together with my friend’s gentle nudge, serve as feedback.

Coming up for air (clinging to our working image of a cauldron/caldera) and seeing what’s out there can be helpful, even refreshing. (Ah, a breeze! Gentle rainfall! The sounds of birds and children’s laughter!) And I took some writerly advice (from Poets and Writers Magazine) to engage with a social media platform, hitherto ignored, except for this outlet. I have now a Twitter presence, to help keep up with literary and musical worlds. @reneecarrier12

I wanted to invite you into my writing cabin. Now go; I have to get back to work. 

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Making Cheese

“You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.”~Anthony Bourdain

I found the above quote by intrepid traveler, Anthony Bourdain, who probably tasted much stronger fare than my cheese on his journeys. Here’s to his courage~

The following is an excerpt from a work in progress. I’ll post now an then from it (working title, Braeburn Croft, A Wyoming Homestead Manual and Radical Memoir, Rooted in Place.) Meanwhile, I’m still sending out submissions for THE RIVEN COUNTRY OF SENGA MUNRO.

IMG_0878 (1)Making Chèvre, or Goat Cheese.

I learned a neighbor raised dairy goats, and by neighbor, I mean someone within a ten-mile radius. Bonnie Jo and her husband Zack, a boot maker and rancher, keep herds of goats, sheep and horses, dogs and probably cats—though I never see any when I enter their yard. They’re raising their children to care for the animals and to carry on The Life. Bonnie Jo was a classmate of our son and married into one of the ranching families north of us.

She is duly proud of her milking goats, their creamy white milk and, as entrepreneur of all  things goat-y, her business card reads Goat Gone Wild. Jeff and I drove up one day last fall to meet her ladies. Apart from a billy’s own promiscuous proclivities, I had read that one in too-close proximity can cause nannies to exude a hormone that will taint their milk. But the old goat (who probably wasn’t all that old) was penned at a distance, while dozens of nannies and their babies freely roamed.

Young kids coax a smile and bring joy. They are that funny. The true comedians of the barnyard.

Bonnie Jo showed us the shed where she milked. She apparently doesn’t need a stanchion, but merely ties the goat and goes a-milkin’ while seated on a stool and it occurred to me that each of us has our passions and preferences. My mind boggled at the prospect of having to milk so many animals twice a day. (That I can sit for hours on end, tapping on a keyboard, would likely draw a similar response by some.) I was thankful we could simply drive up and buy a gallon or a half, though a couple of times the muddy ruts in the twisting dirt road, descending into a back-country valley, had us wide-eyed.

For a nominal fee, she offered to do a demonstration of her favorite cheese-making method and we agreed. We were the luckier ones who took home samples of goat lotion, soap and lip balm. Bonnie Jo uses apple cider vinegar instead of rennet to culture a ricotta-like soft cheese.

I hoped to make something similar to the chèvre, sold in short logs that I’ve bought at the grocer.

After watching a You Tube video on the process, on Food Farmer Earth (How to Make Soft Goat’s Milk Cheese), I ordered liquid rennet and a packet of chèvre culture, a powder that must be kept in the freezer, and something called “butter cloth,”—its weave tighter than cheesecloth. Bonnie Jo had lent me a book on the art of cheese making, and there I found my working recipe. It’s remarkably simple, though all rests on temperature, humidity and attention, three factors that can prove tricky. The goat farmer in the video cautioned her viewers to stir in the culture delicately and, later, to separate the curds with great care when placing them in the butter-cloth-lined strainer.

Last week, I was awarded with four, three-inch logs that had formed well and smelled divine. (Always a good sign.) I wind up with a quart of whey, more or less, for each half gallon of milk. Goat milk has more protein content than cow milk. I mix whey with my muesli overnight.

After stirring in a bit of salt (for both flavor and as a preservative) the new cheese is then ready to age and placed in a container for the purpose, on a slotted  tray, to hold the cheese above any whey that may still drip out. At approximately 52 degrees, our root cellar is perfect for this. The cheese should be turned daily, but if you miss a day, no worries. After a week (or longer, if you’re patient), the logs may be rolled in herbs or chopped nuts, or mixed with sweetened, chopped dried cranberries—a treat—or left au naturel, how we enjoy it. It is mouth-watering on French bread with a half-teaspoon of fig preserves.

So far, I’ve only had to return two batches to the Earth for being too strong, gamey or tainted—take your pick. Once, I suspected the milk had been stored long in the fridge and its acid content prevented the culture from working properly. Another time, the smell interfered with our sensibilities. (This is not understated.) Bonnie Jo explained that, occasionally, in the spring, the nannies’ milk can taste strong.

I take the good with the bad. It is a satisfying venture and, one day, I may keep a couple nannies, but for now, owing to travel, I’ll more than appreciate and make do with an intrepid neighbor whose nannies can furnish the amazing liquid.

Still Reeling

An excerpt from The Riven Country of Senga Munro, the first novel in my Black Hills series, was awarded the Frank Nelson Doubleday writing award by the Wyoming Arts Council.WAC_CMYK_HorizBox-01-1-300x185 Twice in as many years, I am indebted and grateful for their support; this year especially to Neltje for her generous spirit. Visit http://www.wyoarts.state.wy.us for other news of our state’s brave efforts to enhance and enrich rural living.
I’ll be attending the Jackson Hole Writers Conference July 28-30 for a two-fold purpose (probably more, but these remain to be seen). To see the Tetons is actually a primary cause. It’s been too long between visits and dramatic mountains figure prominently in my memory palace. When I was five or six and visiting Grindelwald in Switzerland with my family, my father bade me look through binoculars at the Eiger’s peak , where a man dangled from his ropesunfortunately deceased. For some reason, I don’t feel accompanying dread with this memory, and can only believe it was due to my father’s tone and explanation. That being said–I hold rocky mountains anywhere in great respect, and long for their sight.
I have heard we may be drawn to either mountains or the ocean. While I love the ocean–with some trepidation, for its depth, I love mountains more, for their heights. The thing about continuing a story after the first novel is concluded, is the possibility of sounding the depths and scaling the heights. A facile comparison, surely.
I look forward to being in high mountains again. Here is the text (I think) for the reading I’ll do in Jackson Hole on Saturday night, June 30.

PROLOGUE

The crow dipped and cawed as it approached the coming chasm, having followed the silver snake of moving water from far above the tree tops. The unusual conifer near the lip of the falls caught its eye, for its colorful ribbons, and the crow marked the place to later return for nesting material. Falling water gave way to thundering spray and the black bird swooped with the earth, into the wide, red-to-violet rainbow, sparkling in the mist. Humidity dampened the bright resin fragrance of the forest.

The crow was sharply made aware of a figure below. Upon closer inspection, a man sat hunched over a child, folded in his arms. Both seemed carved of stone—one with the slab whereon they sat. Coltish blue legs skirted the muddy ground, unmoving, and the bird sensed death. The man stared into the shallow, rock-strewn pool before him, to occasionally glance up, as though expecting someone.

Movement at the base of the cliff startled the bird. A woman appeared. Black, greasy mud stained her clothing, hands and jaw, her face mostly hidden beneath a green hat, the color of ponderosa pine needles. A long, roping braid, like woven, autumn grass, piqued the crow’s interest, then, with another caw, it pumped its wings to climb higher.

PART ONE, CHAPTER 1—IN THESE HILLS

Western North Carolina, 1960

The boy led the healer along a hidden path only a rabbit could follow, or make, the woman decided, as she meandered back and forth behind her young guide. Kit bag swinging across her body, her eyes ranged between the rough ground and the swift feet ahead. She would not demand why on earth they’d had to struggle through the knotted rhododendrons, when far easier routes existed. She knew. After a sharp turn north and several more minutes west, below the ridgeline, past the old mine, some of whose timber had been repurposed, a light, gurgling noise alerted her to the creek, flowing their way. Grannie Cowry heard the still before setting eyes on it—the aptly named thump barrel—and when the thumping stopped she knew the whiskey would come.

“Leman.” One of the men quietly greeted her guide when they entered the grove of evergreens. The man gestured for her to follow.

“What’s he done?” Grannie asked.

“Broke a leg.”

She’d learn soon enough how seriously. The injured person was the man’s little brother, who’d only been working a couple months as sentry, he told her. He led her toward the shade. The flies were thick and grasshoppers thicker, drawn to the smell of blood, but mostly, to the sweet mash. Early September, even in the higher hills, brought sticky air; it seemed the insects stuck to it.

Long Winter’s Nap

IMG_0872It appears I’ve taken a hiatus. . . No excuses. I have been working. Finished the third novel in the series that has expanded to quartet length. Maybe a quintet. There’s a reason I have too many chairs in my home; my characters have made themselves at home. The revision is coming along, and Senga continues to surprise me. My revised title to the first novel is The Riven Country of Senga Munro.
Winter clings, with colder than normal temperatures for this time of year and a good snow blanket. Weather discussion can sound tedious, but in Wyoming, where too dry is a matter of fire or life, I make no apologies. Below, please find an excerpt, the setting based on Ballyfin images in Ireland.

Today’s Lines:

They stood before the great house, awake with it alone, save for another single, faint light gleaming from a far window on the opposite wing. Senga had left a similar one for their return; “A candle in the window,” she reminded him.

“Which way?” he asked, as he surveyed the shadowy directions.

“Toward the lake?”

“As you wish,” and they set off.

He was glad for the torch—called flashlight by Senga. She carried the blanket while he lit their way. A well-marked path led to a boat house, where two flat-bottomed boats waited, moored to a dock. He grinned at the sight, remembering summers with his brother. How long had it been since he’d been on the water? If you have to think about it, old son, it has been too long.

“Let’s take one out, shall we?”

“In this darkness? Really?”

“Our eyes are adjusting. Haven’t yours? Oh, Senga, let’s,” and he proceeded to inspect the placement of the oars—not paddles, he noticed. Yes, it was exactly ordained, he thought, and as he shone the light into the boat, he heard Senga sigh and toss the blanket in.

“I suppose they have life jackets somewhere, um, in case the lake has its own Loch Ness monster or something,” she suggested, “. . . as if those would save you,” she mumbled.

He chuckled and illuminated the wall beside the door through which they had entered. Several life jackets hung from hooks and Senga stepped over to take two. “Okay. You up for this?” she asked as she held one out for him, then shrugged into hers.

“I am. Climb in and get settled. There is nothing like being on water to put things in perspective, my dear.” Hoping he was correct and not simply offering empty platitudes and false courage, he fastened his jacket. His heart still ached. For Senga, for Danica and her mother.

When Senga was seated, he shone light on the ropes, set down the torch and quickly untied the boat. He grabbed the torch and handed it to Senga as he climbed in, then, he pushed against the dock and they drifted out of the shed.

They were soon floating beneath a dark sky, made brilliant with stars, as soft lapping of water lulled and night noises intrigued from the nearby wood. The near-invisible silhouette of the stately house stood by, steady as a guardian presence, and Sebastian guessed the night manager had followed their objective—by their jouncing light—to note they were on the water. He took comfort in this. For the moment, his over-wrought nerves welcomed the task at hand, to simply, if not easily, use all his strength to move oars through dark water, with no particular destination in mind; only the moving through would do for now, with Senga, facing him; a rough, dark beauty.

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Spring light on the Tower

Travel’s Magic Portal

If I were asked to describe, in a word—two at the most—my recent travel to France and Ireland, magical would compete with wonder-filled. Wonderful hasn’t the capacity. I was away for seventeen days, and not until I returned did a single mishap threaten the absolute perfection of this trip. But it was only a threat; the piece of luggage was located and had not been left between here and Dublin after all. Glitch-free travel! Alright—one bellyache from downing a Guinness too quickly, when it was time to load up and get back on the road to the next attraction. . . (Try black current syrup with it the next time you have a pint. . .) Read more

I’ll Meet You There


IMG_0872With June comes the much-anticipated, annual Old Settlers Picnic at nearby Devils Tower National Monument. My husband and I serve on the board of the Natural History Association, and this is one of our summer highlights, when we’re not watering, weeding and working at our respective interests. The monument itself was created in 1906 by President Teddy Roosevelt, by the newly minted Antiquities Act. It is the nation’s first National Monument. (read more) Read more

And Yon Twelve-winded Sky

We live in interesting times. This is purported to be an old Chinese curse. May it not be. In this vein, crisis, in Chinese, is made from the ideograms for danger, and, opportunity. In taking up the April thread of springtime and its vagaries (thus avoiding other subjects)~we have in the Hills, so far, avoided a killing frost. Tomorrow is supposedly our last frost date–i.e., the danger of vulnerable apple blossoms being blasted by a freeze is officially moot. So far, so good. So many analogies to draw among the myriad possibilities . . . in these interesting times. . . (tap title for rest)

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Viriditas

Today is the Feast of Easter. Viriditas or, The Greening. We just returned from a visit to see our grandchildren and son, who live 800 miles away. We soaked up their dear presence. We were away for only seven days, wherein I  looked at my writing only once or twice, their being the Great Distraction that warrants my attention. So when I returned to my writing hut for a morning of work, I was mortified that I couldn’t recall which folder held one of my computer files. I finally found it, but still… Lesson learned. And it is this: since embarking on this writing life (read Voyage) in January ’15, I have taken very few days off. Even on official “vacation,” I worked mornings, to experience how a different setting might feed the work. And it does. (How could it not? Pecking away, with the Pacific Ocean pounding before you? and nothing but sand in between?) A bit trickier when conversations and concerns pull, like a grandchild on your pant leg. “NeNe, NeNe, NeNe…” So, no contest. Nor a problem. It’s like rising in the middle of the night to comfort a child. You simply do it, for love. Or, don’t do it; in this case, work.

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Spring Forward

Living on a rural homestead in Wyoming continues to exercise body, mind and spirit. I hung laundry outdoors today, after walking up from my writing hut (where I write–not the hut!). Shoots of tulip and jonquil measure three inches. Spring means snow squalls and biting wind in these parts. We don’t expect constant warmth until mid-May; we do expect blizzards earlier in the month. May the apple crop avoid being blasted again this year. This is not friendly apple-growing country–if dedicated to one’s sole livelihood; the weather gods laugh. But garlic and shallots do well. Roots revel. Herbs endeavor. And rabbits do what rabbits do.
Meanwhile, my “retired” educator husband prunes the orchard, clears winter debris, grinds tree trimmings to mulch–to name a few chores–and stays busy. It’s always something. Hundreds of cut twigs ring the trees, waiting to be gathered–my job. Like pick-up sticks, they fall in I Ching patterns, and I must ignore the possible significance.
Eddy, the aging Jack Russell terrier, spends hours criss-crossing yard, field and wood; sniffing out rabbits, squirrels, mice and old deer bones. She requires help to reach the soft chair cushion in the den–which begs the inference: how long may I be granted to do this thing, write and live on this most lovely land, before needing assistance? How long before a winter freeze blasts me?  It’s a cusp thing.
My birthday coincides with the spring equinox, so this cusp thing plays havoc with intentions, wise or otherwise. It seems as good a time as any for relaunching a blog. One with my name attached. So I may be found (and possibly read), expression being the better part of hesitation (yes, yes, I know, not always). I have read the posts of similarly timid authors, and have discovered strength in numbers. That said. . .
I have completed the writing of two novels. The first (begun in January 2015) is now (March 2017) with an editor, and the second is undergoing revision. They represent two-thirds of a proposed trilogy, or quartet. The Country of Senga, my pitch reads, is “a generational story of loss, ambivalence, resilience, wild grace, passion and triumph.” (The stuff of saga.) Moving from 1960s western North Carolina, to contemporary Wyoming Black Hills, it’s a migratory tale exploring a slew of life’s mysteries. The working title of the second is Senga’s Stars, and centers on travel–to and from the past; love, and ultimately, belonging. A red thread of magic realism binds the three . . . or four.
I plan to post the occasional excerpt or, snippet, from these, from previous work, and offer “field notes,” and other observations. Perhaps a music video, if I can sort the technicalities.
Finally, welcome, and thank you for the visit. I wish everyone the best, especially good health.