Tag Archives: independent writers

In the wake of the mayhem

13 Oct

Let me get this out of the way first: This is not a post about gun control.

Okay, now we can move on.

As I write this, the Mass Shooting Tracker has logged 373 mass shootings in America this year. Check here to see the current number. The tracker defines a mass shooting as any situation in which four or more people, including the shooter, are shot. Simple as that. The FBI defines a mass shooting as any situation in which four or more random victims are killed, not counting the shooter. In either definition, families are left in a world of hurt. Yet, the volume of mass shootings has caused many of us to become inured to stories of them.

That’s what my new novel, Come up a Cloud, is about. “Come up a Cloud” is an old expression that means it looks like rain. It can portend menace, or it can indicate hope. In Come up a Cloud, I cloudcover_fbimagine how a mass shooting in a small town affects its residents. Because the killer shot himself, where will the families of the victims direct their hurt and anger?  Will they seek revenge against someone else? Or can they forgive?

And what about the parents of the killer? How can they properly mourn? How can they forgive themselves and their son?

Here’s the prologue:

The bald tires whined on the bucket-of-bolts truck as it rattled past Sandstrum’s Machine Shop on Route 4. Out of the corner of his eye, the farmer behind the wheel glimpsed a plump figure in camouflage pants loitering near the back corner of the corrugated tin building. The old man would have assumed it was one of the machinists taking a smoke break, except the person wore an odd headpiece. It looked like a Viking helmet, like the ones you saw at Minnesota football games. The other odd thing: The Viking held a rifle canted downward. The gun looked like one of those fancy Bushmasters, which copied M-16s like the one the farmer had carried in the jungle.

The farmer rummaged his brain for any hunting season starting in early August. Squirrel season wouldn’t kick off for a few more weeks, not that a flimsy law stopped anyone who craved pan-fried rodent. He’d heard Bushmaster made a .22, which wasn’t much more than a peashooter dressed up like a serious piece of work. Anything more powerful would rip a squirrel to thunder. And wearing desert camo to hunt squirrels? That was even less necessary than an assault rifle, unless squirrels had gotten a lot smarter than they used to be.

The farmer decided the hunter was one of Sandstrum’s friends, a city fool who had come up to pretend-hunt. That didn’t explain the helmet, but lots of things city people did were hard to explain. He headed down the road to Snoots for a lunch of ham sandwich and PBR. He would give the camoed figure no more thought until he heard the sirens thirty minutes later.

The novel is not a basket of warm and fuzzies. Still, it is not without hope, and I hope you will find it worthwhile.

You can buy the book here.

Better yet, support your local independent book seller. Here’s mine.

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Try my patented method of lawn equipment repair (in 50 easy steps)

13 Jul

Introducing the Ron Smith method of lawn repair™

When Daughter #2 mowed the back yard several weeks ago, the rear left wheel fell off the push mower.  It was irreparable. This allowed me to put my patented lawn equipment repair system into practice. Should you find yourself in similar circumstances, I invite you to try this efficient approach.

  1. Curse aloud at the news the mower is broken.
  2. Wonder if it is possible to continue mowing with only three wheels.
  3. Decide it is not feasible and instruct D2 to finish “mowing” lawn with weed trimmer.
  4. Withhold judgment when lawn, following aforementioned weed trimming, looks like it has been strafed by a Grumman Hellcat.
  5. Order replacement wheel online. (Some repair technicians may be tempted to examine broken part before finding replacement. This is known in equipment repair trade as “cutting corners.”)  Wheel
  6. Because delivery charges are more than replacement part, order additional parts as well, “just to have around.”
  7. Note that it costs several dollars extra to have replacement wheel shipped within one business day.
  8. Opt for regular delivery, which is nine to fourteen days.
  9. Fail to notice that promise is to ship part in nine to fourteen days, rather than to deliver in said time frame.
  10. Sit back and watch grass grow to record heights as it rains every day.
  11. Host major family event at house.
  12. Call Search & Rescue when two relatives are lost for hours in backyard jungle.
  13. Rejoice when new wheel arrives sixteen days after order placed.
  14. Realize you did not think to confirm that push ring that keeps wheel on axle would be included with order.  Pushring
  15. Determine 92-cent push ring is not included.
  16. Confirm that push ring is not one of parts ordered “just to have around.”
  17. Look at lawnmower closely for first time.
  18. Realize other rear wheel is about to fall off, too, which also is not one of parts ordered “just to have around.”
  19. Excoriate self with epithets.
  20. Drop by Home Depot next day to find something that might work as push ring. (Note: Under no circumstances measure wheel axle first as this also would be considered “cutting corners.”)
  21. Buy two sizes of locking washers because they kind of look like push rings.
  22. Try each locking washer on wheel to confirm neither fits.
  23. Say aloud to no one, “Of course they don’t fit.”
  24. Say other things you can’t repeat in polite company.
  25. Briefly consider amount of duct tape necessary to keep wheel on.
  26. Fail again to measure wheel axle for appropriate size.
  27. Drop by Home Depot again.
  28. Buy two more items that look somewhat like push rings.
  29. Try both items on wheel and determine they do not fit.
  30. Conclude it might be good idea to measure wheel axle this time.
  31. Make special trip to Lowe’s to avoid embarrassment of being recognized by Home Depot workers.
  32. Buy every size of lock cap in store.
  33. Determine that one of locks caps fits the wheel axle.
  34. Do little dance of joy.
  35. Take two more days to get in “right frame of mind” before tackling yard, which looks like Amazon rainforest.
  36. Begin to mow lawn.
  37. Amazon-amazon-rainforest-33125135-1600-1200Determine wheel works fine, but other rear wheel is wobbly, and, worse, mower is now stalling.
  38. Curse the sky.
  39. Remember parts ordered “just in case.”
  40. Remove motor housing.
  41. Find nothing obviously wrong.20130622_142225
  42. Install all just-in-case parts anyway.
  43. Try again and get same results.
  44. Cry.
  45. Pout.
  46. Peruse condo ads in real estate section.
  47. Desperately hope mower just needed some air, and begin to mow with motor housing off so motor can “breathe.”
  48. Observe lawnmower die.
  49. Get brilliant idea.
  50. Make trip to neighborhood hardware store for one final part.

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P.S. If you think that’s good advice, try this book of wisdom.

The happiest place in the world, a fable

30 Mar

The happiest land is the world is one none of us can easily reach. It’s tucked away in a hidden valley in a faraway part of the world that does not appear on any map.

By happenstance, a hiker entered this remote place on his way to climb one of the highest mountains in that part of the world. He did not know it was the happiest land. The hiker, though still young, had traipsed across four continents. He had thrown a stone off the Great Wall, bathed in an ice-cold river in Patagonia, and watched antelope drink from a calm pool at sunset in Namibia. He still had much left to see and experience. He wanted to write a great novel, learn the paint, fall in love, and have his name etched in a monument at the end of his days. But he had only one lifetime in which to achieve it all, and he worried that he couldn’t achieve all that he wanted. Therefore, the man lived in constant anxiety, as he hurried from one experience to the next.

When he first entered the happiest land, he found nothing outwardly interesting about it. Its mountains were no more majestic than others he had seen. The streams were no clearer, the flowers no more colorful, and the animals no bigger or faster.DSC07710

As he found it rather dull, the hiker chose to spend no more time than necessary in this small land. After asking directions, he took the shortest path possible that lead toward the mountain he intended to climb. Along the way, all the natives treated the visitor warmly. This was nothing new to the man. He had traveled through many hospitable places. However, the people in this land seemed even happier and more relaxed than he had previously experienced. This made him uneasy. He was not used to such calmness.

The stranger also noticed that some people wore white t-shirts with calendar dates printed in black. Some dates were many years in the future; others were close at hand. He assumed the shirts were the current fashion in this land, but he did not want to reveal his ignorance about their meaning. Still, he decided to buy one as a souvenir. He entered the next shop he came to and asked where he could purchase a white shirt like the ones he had seen others wearing.

The store clerk was pleasant, but firm. “I’m sorry, sir. You cannot buy those shirts. They are a gift when a person reaches a certain age.”

The clerk suggested other apparel — plenty of well-made shirts in beautiful colors were available — but they did not interest the hiker. He left the store frustrated.

Near the far end of his trek through the land, the hiker met a middle-aged woman along the path. Just as all the others he encountered that day, the woman had a look of almost otherworldly contentedness. By this time, the visitor had become annoyed at the serenity he saw in all the people he met. He stopped the woman as she passed him.

“Everyone I have seen here appears to have such inner peace,” the hiker said. “Frankly, it’s starting to get on my nerves. It’s as though you think you have all the time in the world. Trust me, you don’t.”

The woman shrugged.  “We have enough time.”

“I don’t know how you could. Look at me. I have no responsibilities, I travel all around the world. and yet I still feel like life it too short.”

“I imagine you have been to many wonderful places,” the woman said. She pointed to a large rock just off the path.  “Why don’t we rest for a bit while you share some of your stories?”

“I wish I had the time,” the hiker said. “But I have a mountain to climb.”

“Why must you climb it now? Is this your last day?”

“My last day?”

“I have seen other people like you. Not a lot, but a few. They hurry on the last day of their life like they are in a race.”

“It’s not my last day, I assure you,” the hiker said. “I’m still a young man, and I have a lot more to do in life. Besides, how would I know if it were my last day?”

The woman sat on the rock to rest. She rubbed the calves of her legs, which were much weaker than when she was a young woman. “We all know our last day in this land,” she said. “For some of us, that day is quite close. For others, the day is well in the future.”

“How can you know the day you’ll die?”

The woman shrugged. “We just do. We are born knowing.”

“That explains the shirts I saw,” the hiker said. “You must be miserable to be cursed with that knowledge. What if the time of your death is soon? There is so much to do and see.”

“For most of us, it’s comforting to know when we will die,” the woman said. “It liberates us to live. We can experience life with calmness, because we already know how it will end. Instead of worrying about it, we focus on what happens each minute of this life.”

“You sound like you believe in a life after this one,” the hiker said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t be so calm about it.”

“I do believe in a life after this one,” the woman said. “But that’s not for me worry about. I know for certain that I have been given this life. No matter how long it is, I make the most of it. That doesn’t mean I have to climb every mountain, though we have many beautiful ones here. It doesn’t mean I have to read every poem ever written, though we have wonderful poets among us. It means I must cherish the life I have.”

The woman stood again, ready to continue down the path.”You seem to be in a hurry to reach that mountain,” she said. “What is the point? If you knew you were dying tomorrow, would you want to be there? Or would you be somewhere else more important to you?”

“But I don’t know when my last day will come,” the hiker said. “What should I do?”

“The same as all of us here,” the woman said. “Love, of course. Love who you are, where you are and those around you.”

“I guess you have already figured out where you’ll be on your last day?” the hiker asked.

“In a place very special to me,” the woman said. “With people I love. I’m going there now.”

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From the other side of death

26 Mar

An excerpt from The Savior of Turk.

After I died, I figured I’d possess a clear memory of my whole life, from the day I popped out of my mama’s belly till they put a sheet over my head at the hospital. In eternity, I had in mind that I’d go back and forth over everything that happened to me like I was playing a movie, re-watching the nice parts and fast forwarding through the others until I about wore out the tape. But chunks of my life are fuzzier than others. Whole pieces got lost somewhere, things you’d think I’d remember. I recall but a few of the kids’ birthdays. Just a handful of Christmas mornings made the cut, and those memories are like looking through a window smeared with Vaseline.

BeachOther recollections are as clear to me as if they happened a minute ago, in vivid Technicolor. But they’re not necessarily the kind of memories you’d think would have stuck. Like the time our daughter Kimmie — I reckon she was around two because it was before Karl came along — got her fingers slammed in the door of our car as she was getting out. I hadn’t been paying close enough attention, and I took for granted that she was clear of the door when I shut it. She bawled bloody murder for close to half an hour. We’d crossed up to Iowa to spend a Sunday afternoon at a state park where there was a little sandy beach, and we had just parked the car when it happened.

For the occasion, Polly had bought Kimmie a purple swimsuit with a little yellow frilly thing around the waist that made it look like a tutu. Kimmie wore it to bed the night before. She was so hopped up about going to the beach that she liked to have never got to sleep. Then I had to go and ruin it by slamming her fingers in the door. Her right pointer and middle fingers swelled up like hot dogs. We had some ice from the cooler to help the swelling, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She sat next to her mom on a beach towel and whimpered the whole afternoon. Never got in the water. I didn’t either. I felt so bad and wished I could have done something to make it right.

I don’t know why a memory like that would be so clear to me, but I guess I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.

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I’m slightly less stupid than a year ago

10 Jan

Reason #1: I know I should not be my own editor

I published my first novel, The Savior of Turk (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!) a little more than a year ago. I don’t know if I’m any smarter, but I was dumber then than I am now.Turk_Print_Cover

An adage, which I just made up, goes that even John Steinbeck needed an editor. Everyone, no matter how good they are at writing, requires a good editor to keep them on the right path. However, I was so sure of myself when I wrote The Savior of Turk  (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!that I thought I could get by without a professional putting the thing under a microscope.

No matter how good a writer I may think I am, I need someone who can look at my work objectively. This person is not my dear wife, Michele.  I find it a good idea to have Michele read my work because she takes the better or worse thing seriously and has willed herself to be my biggest fan. If she doesn’t like something I’ve written—and, believe me, there have been such occasions—it confirms I have written junk. If, however, Michele praises my work, it doesn’t prove anything, except that Michele is a supportive spouse.  Michele said she really liked the manuscript for The Savior of Turk  (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!). This proved that our marriage was on reasonably solid footing, but it did not confirm anything about the book’s quality, other than it was at least slightly better than something a baboon could produce.

Professional editors do more than look at a manuscript objectively. They also see the big picture. After Michele read the manuscript, I asked two friends with extensive writing experience to take a look.  Glenn Kleier, whose novel The Knowledge of Good and Evil is available for $7.99 while digital copies last! also read the manuscript. All three gave me favorable feedback and good suggestions. However, none of them could be expected to go through the manuscript as an editor, who would evaluate the story arc, character development, dialogue and all that. That’s what a professional editor does. And they don’t care if they hurt my feelings like my wife or friends theoretically might. An editor is paid to help the writer craft the best possible story.

Since The Savior of Turk  (Only $2.99. Hurry while digital copies last!) was published, I have revised it twice, primarily re-proofing, shortening and eliminating some sections that I decided added little to the story. I know the book was always good, but now it’s even better. It could have been that way all along if I had gotten an editor to look at it. Next time, I will, you know, because I’m not the idiot I was twelve months ago.

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Next Post: Reason #2 I’m slightly less stupid than a year ago

In defense of ignorance

26 Oct

I’m taking my younger daughter to my alma mater for homecoming this weekend.

I have an aerial view of the motel where we’ll stay. I know if I drive the speed limit, we’ll arrive there six hours and five minutes from the time we leave home. I know the structure is less than five years old. I’ve read guest reviews that say it’s a decent play to stay.

I also know that it’s wiser to buy our football tickets at the stadium, from a scalper, than on StubHub. I know this because the opponent is week, and that their fans don’t travel well.

I’ve packed warm clothes because I know the game time temperature will be a sunny forty degrees.

I Google, therefore I am.

I sometimes miss those days when I didn’t know much. When I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I remember the second time I came to campus, for freshman orientation. In particular, I recall a boy who was book-ended by two cute girls as they ambled from one campus building to the next. The trio had the confidence of upperclassmen. They kept slightly separated from the rest of us during our campus tour, barely paying attention to our orientation leader. I overheard them say they had gone to the same large high school in St. Louis, and they seemed so comfortable in their new home for the next four years.

I was Mr. Recent North Podunk High School graduate. I wasn’t sure I could find my way back to my car, let alone the appropriate classroom buildings again. The St. Louis Three must have read the pamphlet  How to Act Like You Own the Place Your First Day on Campus. My copy got lost in the mail. I was an ignorant kid from the sticks.  Eighteen years old with an IQ to match. That was a blessing. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I occasionally miss that state of mind. If we don’t know something, we can find the answer quickly.

My older daughter is applying to colleges. The process has been relatively sane so far, but I know there are some kids, with parents coptering over them, who have three-inch thick dossiers on all the best colleges in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as appendices on the deodorant and toothpaste preferences of each university president. There can be no surprises, nothing left to chance.

For my freshman orientation, I packed a few clothes in the little vinyl suitcase I’d gotten as a graduation gift and made the 3 ½ hour drive to campus, alone. It became immediately clear that everyone else at orientation had come with their BFFs. Many parents were hovering around, too. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should bring a posse. I didn’t know what I didn’t  know.

Those three kids from St. Louis particularly were bugging me. Because they were pre-journalism students like me, I saw them often as we acclimated to campus those two days. They were relaxed and seemed sure of themselves, as though coming to college was as easy as going out for a Big Mac. I still had clover seed stuck in my hair.

One of my first college friends attended a huge high school in one of the most affluent areas of the state. His senior class was bigger than my home town. He knew how to appropriately use big words that I didn’t yet know existed. He was trying to get into Journalism School, too. A semester and a half later, he flunked out. I, unencumbered by informed self-doubt, moved ahead.

I still think occasionally about those three confident kids from orientation. It was a big campus, making it easy to go four years without bumping into them. However, I saw the boy a few months into our freshman year. He looked like a deer caught in headlights. I never saw him again. I occasionally saw one of the girls he had been with. She asked me out on a date our senior year.

A lesson regarding the use of bovines in car spots

11 Oct

As I watched the jittery heifer pace along the makeshift barbed wire fence, something from my past warned me the situation was about to go to hell in a hand basket.

I should have seen it coming. As a kid, I got a crack at Granddad’s prized herd before he sold the rest at auction. I bought two steers, naming the red one with the white face Elton and black-white faced one John. (At the time, I thought Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the greatest album in the history of album-dom.) My other grandparents ran cattle, too. I spent more of my childhood than I preferred helping count, chase, castrate and doctor cattle. The worst bunch was a herd of steers Dad bought to fatten up for a quick sale. The steers acted like teenagers on spring break the entire time we had them. They occasionally found an escape route from the pasture, and they didn’t make it easy to get them back in. We even raised an orphaned Angus calf in our back yard. With that much animal husbandry experience, I should have been smarter when I was assigned to produce a TV commercial, with cattle as extras, in St. Louis. Yes, in St. Louis.

About twenty years ago, my boss at the ad agency, Glenn Kleier, (now a novelist) had a big idea. Our client in St. Louis, one of the largest car dealerships in the country, was close to selling its twenty thousandth car. Glenn figured twenty thousand cars would roughly equate to forty miles of cars lined end to end. He wanted to make a commercial showing forty miles of cars extending from the Arch in downtown St. Louis.

First, I located on a map the poetically named Clover Bottom, Missouri about forty miles away as the crow flies from downtown St. Louis. Perfect. In the TV spot,  lab-coated “scientists” would measure the precise length of twenty thousand cars as they stretched end to end from the city to the country. The penultimate scene would be the last few cars along the road leading into Clover Bottom, with pastured cattle in the background. The last shot would be an old farmer on his porch watching the guys in lab coats measuring each car. He’d ask his wife, “What the heck are they up to?”  His wife, knitting in her rocking chair, would say, “Oh, about twenty thousand cars.”  I smelled an Emmy.

As with most car spots, I had a tight budget. I couldn’t fake the beginning of the commercial–the line of cars with the Arch in the background–but I could stage the ending somewhere closer to the city than Clover Bottom.

I had worked with a production crew in St. Louis many times (even taking over a shopping mall after hours one night to drive cars through). They never flinched at the sometimes crazy requests I made. This time, I asked their help in finding a “rural” location. Oh, and I needed some cattle, too.

The crew located an old house with some acreage and a small barn. It was actually in a populous St. Louis suburb. But the production company promised they could shoot the scene so that no one would know the difference. Great, I said, but what about the cattle? No problem. One of their guys had a second cousin whose uncle on his Mom’s side owned cattle. He would haul some to us. I didn’t  have the time or budget to fly to St. Louis to scout the location myself, and I  had to trust these guys. They had never let me down before, but they were a video company used to shooting Bud Light commercials. They weren’t cattle wranglers.

I showed up on site early on a Sunday morning. We often shot on Sundays because the dealerships were closed. The client had given us thirty cars and drivers to work with. We would shoot them in various orders in different spots around the city, always framing the camera so that no one could tell they were the same cars. When editing was finished, it would look like we  had twenty thousand cars lined up long the streets of St. Louis.

We started with the most difficult shot–the one with the cattle. The crew had already strung a barbed wire fence along an area behind the house. When the cattle arrived, they would be unloaded in the temporary pen.

While the crew was still setting up, getting cars in position, etc., a pickup pulling a stock trailer arrived with our bovine extras. I was expecting a few docile milk cows. Instead, I got one cranky Hereford heifer, who had just hours before been enjoying a peaceful Sunday brunch of grass alongside  her buddies. Now, she was in the city hawking Buicks and Toyotas.

The heifer’s owner backed up the stock trailer and shooed the heifer into the temporary pen. I was already worried. The success of my spot depended on a juvenile cow that literally had the poop scared out of it. The shot wasn’t ready, but the heifer already looked like she’d had enough.  A mature cow might stay put long enough to get a decent shot. A heifer surrounded by lots of people and strange noises? No way. For most cows, a fence with a couple of strands of barbed wire clipped to metal fence posts is more of a suggestion than an inescapable pen. If a  one-ton heifer wants to be elsewhere, little can be done to stop her. When  it came time to get the first shot, a half-dozen people, perhaps none of them who had ever been around a cow other than in the form of a T-bone, tried to coax our star into position. Instead, the heifer jumped the fence and began a long romp through the neighborhood.

I could either cry, chase the heifer, or try to salvage the shot. While part of the crew chased the heifer, I stayed to save the shoot and my job. The owners of the property had a goat and some chickens. I turned to the goat and said, “You’re on, baby. Don’t let me down.” In addition to the goat, we also tried to shoo the chickens into the shot, but they weren’t interested in fame and glory. The goat,  however, was the perfect sport.

While we were shooting, I had visions of the heifer running across busy roads (which I heard later that it did) and causing wrecks. I could imagine TV news copters capturing footage of The Great Heifer Chase. I also could see myself going to jail for letting a frightened heifer terrorize half of St. Louis.

We completed most of the shots (other than the ones near the Arch) when the head photographer returned from chasing the animal. He had a good coating of cow crap on his pants. The heifer had run far and hadn’t given up easily. Finally, worn out from destroying petunias and leaving cow patties on sidewalks, she had been wrestled back into the trailer and taken  home. A cop had stopped to help, but he was more amused than anything. It beat writing traffic tickets.

By comparison, the shoot near the Arch, which temporarily blocked traffic on one of the busiest streets in the city, went much better. The final product, even with a goat as the stand-in, wasn’t terrible. However, it wasn’t equal to the stress it caused.  The old production rule that warns against working with animals was never more true. Especially ones that outweigh humans.

Spotlight and Interview at the Avid Reader

26 Sep

An excerpt of an interview on The Avid Reader blog...

The Avid Reader: If you could travel back in time here on earth to any place or time. Where would you go and why?

Ron D  Smith: I would like to go back and hang out with Abe Lincoln in the White House, but there’s a catch. I can go all day without electricity, but I like indoor plumbing. Did they have that in the White House when Lincoln was there? If not, that would be a deal breaker.

And it gets even better. Please check it out.

The Night Budda Got Deep in It

Budda is staying busy

12 Sep

The Night Budda Got Deep in It is featured by these fine book bloggers and reviewers. Let’s hope it doesn’t go to Budda’s head.

Jenn’s Review Blog

All Things Writing

Crystal’s Book Corner

Book Giveaway

10 Jul

Check out Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews for the Summer Lovin’ Hop, which starts Wednesday, July 11. The Savior of Turk is one of the giveaway. Laurie does a great job of connecting book lovers.  It’s people like Laurie who independent writers going strong.

http://lauries-interviews.blogspot.com/p/summer-lovin-giveaway-hop-jul-11-17.html