Friday, July 4, 2014

Blog Hop Part 4: Why?

Why do I write what I do?

That's the last question for the four-part blog hop (for previous questions and answers, just scroll back to the beginning of the week).

Now, to the answer.

I "fell into" writing mysteries set in the West because that's where my more recent (past couple generations) of family history resides.

Aside: Go back a couple more generations on my mother's mother's side, and there's the Hasbroucks of Newburgh, New York ... their house "lives on" in history as one of George Washington's headquarters during the Revolution: and ain't that appropriate to the 4th of July! I even have a faded photograph of the Hasbroucke House with my G'ma Elsie's handwritten explanation of the family connections on the back. (Tried to photograph it, but too much reflection, oh well.)

Hasbrouck House (George Washington's Headquarters). Happy July 4th!

Sidestep over to my father's father's side, and you quickly bang into the DuPonts... here's a snap of my Granddad Parker and my dear Uncle Walt from the DuPont archives:

I came to Leadville and found its history so fascinating I just never left.

Just like old photographs, the truths and stories of the past fade over time and eventually turn into dust. I'm doing my very small part to bring bits and pieces of the past to present awareness through fiction. And have fun at the same time!

Don't let them fade away...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Blog Hop Part 3: Getting "into the mood"

Continuing the blog hop on "the writer's process" from yesterday (exploring the question: How does my writing/work differ from others in the genre?) and the day before (What am I working on/writing?), today I'm tackling the question: How does my writing process work?
How does my writing process work?
How does my writing process work?
How does my writing process work?
How does my writing process work?

This is actually the fourth/last question in this particular blog hop questionnaire, but I feel like doing this one today, and who's to stop me? Answer: No one, because I'm sitting here at my home computer and there's no one peering over my shoulder as I pound out the words...

Basically, my writing process is pretty straightforward:
  • Sit down at "my station" (my home office, if I'm working from home, or a client office, if I'm stationed there)
  • Rev up the computer
  • Slide on computer glasses (effectively throwing everything but the screen, keyboard, and papers in the immediate vicinity "out of focus" ... which cuts down on visual distractions)
  • Check emails to be sure the world hasn't ended since my last session
  • Put my cell phone aside (but nearby, for any text/check-in needs)
  • Make sure that cuppa Joe is at hand
  • Plug in the noise reduction earphones and slide 'em on
  • Call up my Pandora stations (or, if for some reason, I can't access/use Pandora, I attach the earphones to my cell and call up my iTunes library)
  • Put hands on keyboard
  • Type
At  my home battle station, ready for action. Note fuzzy companion, snoozing off her "food coma," by window to left.
Of course, before all this happens, there is some requisite dithering around. For instance, this morning, I fed the cat (so she's sated and won't sit on my keyboard and glare at me accusingly for starving her), read the front section the newspaper, opened some windows downstairs for fresh air before the heat sets in.

Me? Sit on your keyboard? When have I ever done that?

All the time, I was thinking about this post (well, off and on, anyway), and how I might get started. I made a short list of things I need/want to do today, so as not to "get lost" and find myself at day's end, gnashing teeth over what I didn't do.

 For fiction writing, or any kind of writing, this overall process is pretty much the same.

For me, music is a key component. Sometimes, Pandora shuts off/leaves in a huff (with that plaintive "Are you still listening?" bubble floating on the screen). If I'm deep into writing, I don't even notice the music is gone. But, at least at the start, it helps me enter the process and "the zone." I created a variety of stations to choose from, depending on my mood and what kind of writing I'm doing, mostly (but not entirely) leaning toward classical and Celtic ("New Age") music. That said, I'll confess to a certain fondness for P!nk (who channels what I think of as the sort of "in your face" attitude that my protagonist, Inez Stannert, occasionally takes on). I captured the lineup of stations on that are on my list, just FYI, if you're interested. (DISCLAIMER: Not all of these are "mine." I have stations that I listen to with my spouse--Pink Floyd and Gabby Pahanui, anyone?--and my daughter--that's the Autechre station--etc.)

My list of Pandora stations... apologies for the raster effect!

Once I'm in the zone, I write, with inner editor off, if possible. (For fiction, this comes pretty easily. If I'm working on a piece for a client, I often have the political/technical parameters rumbling around in my brain at the same time, so it's not quite the headlong dash.)

Well, time to wrap this up and proceed to the next project. I can now tick "finish blog post" off my list of the day! Progress!

Tomorrow, I'll tackle the final blog hop question: Why do I write what I do?
Some of the necessities for "getting in the mood."

How does my writing process work?
How does my writing process work?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Blog Hop Part 2: The same but different

... Continuing from yesterday, the blog hop question for today is:

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?
Well, in its bits and pieces, it's more "like" some others in the mystery genre than not.
  • I write about a location I love and a time I am curious about.
  • I take characteristics from people around me, from my past, from things I read, add a dollop of imagination and create my characters from that.
  • Plots and plot twists, I pick up here and there.
I'm willing to bet many other writers come to their work along the same well-beaten paths. In my case, what makes it all different, are the combination of details: -- I write about 1880s Colorado. My protagonist, Inez Stannert, comes by her name thanks to my paternal grandmother (the real Inez Stannert), and her physical characteristics--tall, dark hair, hazel eyes, olive-toned skin--from my maternal grandmother (Elsie Richards). She gets the "steel in her spine" from all  the strong-minded women I've known throughout my life. Plots and plot twists: while others peruse today's morning papers, I check out the 1880s copies thanks to venues like the online Historical Colorado Newspapers.

And even when other writers and I share the same "neighborhoods" -- Michelle Black, with her wonderful mystery set in 1880 Leadville, The Second Glass of Absinthe, Sandra Dallas and her many historical novels set in Colorado, Vicki Delany and her Klondike mystery series, and many more -- all of us write with different voices and see the world we have created with different eyes.

My Grandmother Elsie at 18

Monday, June 30, 2014

Doing the hop hop hop, the "writer's process" hop

I'm following on to Camille Minichino's great post answering questions about "the writer's process" as part of an ongoing blog hop. However, since I'm a-draggin' as I write this, I'm thinking I'll be mysterious with my answers and do one post a day this week answering each of the four questions. (Hey, it's the slow reveal... what could be more suspenseful, right?)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bring out the dust rag and the rug beaters!

Okay folks, time to dust this baby off.

Every Doggone Chore Has Its Day
Now, in the days of yore, the chores for each day were enumerated as follows:
  • Wash on Monday
  • Iron on Tuesday
  • Mend on Wednesday
  • Churn on Thursday
  • Clean on Friday
  • Bake on Saturday
  • Rest on Sunday 
(Channeling Inez...) "Moi? Play By The Rules?? Why Ever Would I Do That??" (... and don't ask her to do chores if she's holding one of those rug beaters!)
However, I've never been one to follow protocol (unless someone pays me to do so). Besides, this every-day-has its-chores business doesn't take into account the sit-in-front-of-the-computer-and-bang-out-words chore, which must be done every day of the week including Sundays. (The overriding rule of "no rest for the wicked or for those with two kids in college" comes into play here).

Therefore, Let It Be Known That I Proceed Randomly As The Spirit Moves
Last night on Friday, I helped my daughter bake a yummy chocolate-banana cake last night (how lovely to have her home for the summer!), and I'm cleaning up my blog and various living spaces now (i.e., Saturday).
As part of that general cleanup, I plan to churn up some words of wisdom for Monday, June 30, as part of a "blog hop" focused on the writing process.
On Monday, June 23, see Camille Minichino's "hop" entry, which precedes me by one week, here:

Look for a return to random musings, starting here and continuing on June 30!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tunnel Vision - Burro Schmidt

Another Monday has rolled around, with more than 1100 miles covered from  the previous Tuesday to Friday. The main purpose of my from-Bay-Area-to-Joshua-Tree-and-back trip was to give a talk to the “Ridge Writers” section of California Writers Club in Ridgecrest and also to chat with a Ridgecrest book group. Great groups of folks, in both cases (and yummy tea and scones for the book club meet). There were also some lovely surprises along the way, including a “guided tour” of the Burro Schmidt Tunnel, by local Ridgecrest historian Alan Alpers.

Burro Schmidt by his cabin, sans burros. Postcard/photo from Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, Ridgecrest, CA.
As you can probably tell from the name of the place, Burro Schmidt Tunnel is a piece of the “Old West.” William Henry (“Burro”) Schmidt dug this tunnel, hand-drilling all the way, for 32 years. He was 36 when he started, and 68 when he finished.

So just what was Burro Schmidt up to, anyway? Was he in search of gold and silver, hoping to get rich? Did he just plain enjoy the tunnel-making process—drilling, dynamiting, and mucking and so on? According to a website that talks about his life and this, his tunneling accomplishment, it says: “His intention early on was to provide easy transportation to the railroad for his ore, as no roads through to the other side's valley and railroad then existed.” But if that’s the case, why did his tunnel come to a T, shortly before punching through the mountain on the other side, and branch left and then branch right?

To my mind, it’s a mystery.

I wonder about Burro Schmidt: Who he was, and what drove him to make this tunnel. We cannot ask him, we can only guess and ponder, as Schmidt died in 1953, a few days short of his 82nd birthday.

I’d muse some more here, but one of the things I brought home from the trip was a nasty virus, and between the chills and fevers, I don’t think I can write a heck of a lot more.

For more about Burro Schmidt, his life, and his activities, check out

As for the rest, I’ll let the pictures tell the story…
Here's to Burro Schmidt... a man of determination and persistence! Photo: Bill McConachie
Tunnel entrance, with (left to right) Alan Alpers, Bill McConachie, and moi. Photo: Donna McCrohan Rosenthal.
Donna McCrohan Rosenthal at the exit to the tunnel. And what do we see...??? amazing view of wide-open spaces! But... how was Burro Schmidt planning to reach the railroad, which is waaaay below and to the left?

In the tunnel, looking back to the entrance. Remember: Burro Schmidt did all this solo (well, with the help of two burros), BY HAND. Photo: Bill McConachie

Monday, March 4, 2013

Looking back, looking forward

A little late with my "usual" Monday morning blog... but here it is, and it's still before noon, so hopefully this counts as on time.

It's been a hectic two weeks, during which I spent most of the time with my rear glued to the chair, banging out some deadline-driven projects for clients. I emerged late last night, triumphant, but ready to stand and stretch for a while. How did I feel about meeting all those deadlines? Rather like:


Right this instant (Monday morning), I'm sitting in "the Silo" at UC Davis, looking at all the students studying away (well, some are studying, anyway), and thinking how YOUNG they all look. I'm also reflecting back over my UC Berkeley days, when I learned that sobering life lesson: Sometimes you can try really REALLY REALLY hard... and you still won't get an "A." And, sometimes, the idiot sitting next to you who never studies and is constantly goofing off and mouthing off isn't an idiot at all but some insanely brilliant 15-year-old pipsqueak who aces every physics class without even trying.

(Did my mom tell me life isn't fair? Yes, she did. And it's a lesson I'm still learning at 60+ years.)

I'm also reflecting back on my dear Aunt Dorothy, born in 1909, who died some time ago. In the 1990s, when I became seriously interested in family history, I was always pestering her with questions about her parents (my grandparents), her aunts, uncles, etc. (Her mother was Inez Stannert, my paternal grandmother who was raised in Leadville, so here's the Silver Rush connection.) 

I guess sometimes I overdid the relentless-interviewer style, because, at one point, she asked me in exasperation, "Why are you so interested in all that old stuff? It's all in the past!"

Surprised, I said, "Don't you think about the past?"

She responded, "No."

I couldn't understand this. I mean, here was a woman who lived through World War I, the Depression, World War II, had been a career woman (legal secretary, back when it was quite a feat for a "mere female,") ... and she didn't reflect on the past?

Curious, I asked, "What do you think about?"

Her prompt reply: "The future."


That gave me pause, as my aunt was well into her nineties at this point.

I asked cautiously, "What, in particular, about the future?" (At least I didn't say WHAT future ... which was my first thought but which would have been terribly insensitive to blurt out, so thank goodness I didn't.) 

I think I'd tired her out at that point, because I remember she simply shrugged and looked away ...

Okay, this is getting way maudlin.

So, like my dear Aunt Dorothy, let's look to the future...

This coming week, I'll be off to Ridgecrest, California, to talk with the California Writers Club "Ridge Writers" group on March 6 about how I came to write a mystery series set during the Colorado Silver Rush.

Also, a little tootle of the BSP horn: I am Poisoned Pen Press's "Author of the Month" for March! They've bestowed this status upon me in recognition of Women's History Month, and my fictional endeavors in the area of women's history in the West. This just makes me smile, big time. 

And to wrap up this rambling post, I'd like to turn and tip my hat to the past, saying: This is for you, Aunt Dorothy... A true woman of the West: strong, tough when you had to be, always looking forward and never giving up or giving in.
Here's to you, Aunt Dorothy!