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Author Interview Books Writing

Kathleen Kaska’s Tips on Overcoming Writer’s Block!

[Now SCRATCH those last two words!]

Guest Blog! Five-Minute Writing Tips by Kathleen Kaska

Award-winning author Kathleen Kaska

Kathleen Kaska recently sent me her Five-Minute Writing Tips, and I had to share them with you this National Novel Writing Month! I’ve enjoyed several conversations with Kathleen during interviews about her latest books (she has many), and I hope you’ll enjoy the videos of our visits (see below Kathleen’s tips). And so, without further ado, her helpful tips! (Time to rewatch Throw Momma from the Train!)

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Don’t Be Like Larry Donner: Seven R’s for Removing Writer’s Block

Was the night . . . humid, moist, or wet? Is the right word on the tip of your tongue, but you’re tongue-tied? Do you have a great scene for murdering a condescending convenience-store clerk, but can’t get his body into the beer box without being seen? Have your characters developed minds of their own, barricaded themselves in a bank vault, and refused to make an appearance on your computer screen?

What do you do now? Start by deleting the words “writer’s block” from your vocabulary, then remember the advice of Larry Donner. “Who’s he?” you ask. Remember the movie Throw Momma from the Train, a spoof on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller, Strangers on a Train? Throw Momma from the Train stars Billy Crystal as writing instructor Larry Donner and Danny DeVito as his overzealous student, Owen Lift.

The plot in both films is based on the theory that if you eliminate the motive, you can get away with murder. In other words, “You kill mine, and I’ll kill yours.” In Throw Momma, Larry wants his wife dead, Owen his mother.

The sub-plot in the spoof has to do with writer’s block. Larry has a severe case of it, which is magnified by the murder charge against him, but the basic lesson to his students is: “A writer writes, always.” So, take Larry’s advice if the words won’t flow and follow my seven “R’s.”

1. Resurrect: Work on more than one writing project.

If you hit a roadblock while working on a story, just move to another. Allow your creativity time to process what you have written. In the meantime, continue writing. I keep several projects in the works: a proposal, an article, a blog post, or even an old-fashioned letter to a friend. This allows me to log several hours a day of writing and feel like I’ve accomplished something.

2. Rewrite: Edit what you’ve already written.

As a writer, you may like to ignore the left side of your brain, but that petty and unrelentingly critical hemisphere is your friend. While the right side of your brain allows the creative stream to flow unencumbered by rules of the English language, you have to tidy up the result with the left.

I set aside my first drafts to let them settle. When the time is right, I let my left-brain do the dirty work.

3. Research: Spend more time gathering information.

Being at a loss for words might mean you’re out of ammunition. There is no better way for me to get those juices flowing again than to delve deeper into my subject, searching for facts and anecdotes that add dimension to the piece.

While working on my article “Digging for Ancient Treasure: Agatha Christie in the Middle East,” I read Christie’s book, Come Tell Me How You Live, a humorous account of her life with her husband, archeologist Max Mallowan. This autobiographical story gave me a new perspective and added a twist to my article.

4. Regroup: Join a writers’ critique group or enroll in a writing class or workshop.

I believe a good writer, like a good teacher, is always willing to learn. For me, groups and workshops increase my motivation and benefit my writing creatively and financially. Isolating myself with my thoughts and computer might be comforting, but I cannot live on my own words alone. I need feedback.

An effective critique group is made up of colleagues, not best friends, and objective criticism is the goal. Don’t go ballistic like Larry Donner did in the film when his nemesis (Momma) gave him the perfect word. “The night was wet” might be accurate, but “sultry” rolls off the tongue and adds more depth to Larry’s description, setting the tone for his story.

Learn from your peers. The day a writer feels that he/she has learned everything there is to know about the art and business of writing is the day that writer should hang up her pen.

5. Resolve: Solve problems that interfere with your concentration.

Well, at least make an attempt. You might not be able to convince your mother not to call during your writing time, or guarantee that your four-year-old won’t fall off his tricycle, but you can arrange and organize your day to ensure fewer distractions.

Maybe you can drop off your kids at your mother’s for the afternoon, turn off your phone, notifications, or even let your emails go unread. Just remove some obstacles so that your path is clear.

6. Read: Read your favorite author.

I have several books that I call my inspirational jumpstarts. They vary from the poetic prose of Beryl Markham’s West with the Night, to the comic dialogue of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mystery series, to my favorite poetry book, Nine Horses, by Billy Collins. Reading a great book or story inspires me to write. Likewise, if I am writing an article and am having trouble with that first line, I peruse magazines and read the first sentences of a few articles. This gets my mind off what is not working for me and allows me to focus on what works for other writers.

7. Relax: It might be time to let your mind wander.

Watch Throw Momma from the Train. While your conscious self-relaxes, your brain is still at work processing behind the scenes. As in the movie, everything resolves itself in the end, given enough time and a change of scenery. Larry’s wife is found alive, so the murder charges against him are dropped; Owen’s mother dies a natural death, giving Owen the freedom he needs to become himself; and both writer and student publish a book.

The moral of the story: whether you are running from the law or hiding from your mother, no matter if the night is humid, moist, wet, or sultry, a writer writes—always.

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Our most recent visit about “Murder at the Menger”
We talk about her “Sherlock Holmes Quiz Book” and more!
We discuss her murder mystery “A Two-Horse Town” and more!
Categories
Laurel on Life

CHRISTMAS with Odin

A New Short Story for Your Holiday Book Collection!

Available now!

Well, I’ve written 18K more words than I would have written if I hadn’t committed to participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge! It’s unlikely that I’ll reach 50K words by November 30th, but that’s okay. Some progress is better than none, and I’ve recently joined a CCWE critique group, too. Getting great feedback on things I’ve overlooked and other writing “no-nos” I KNOW I shouldn’t be doing. It’s easy for me to catch errors in other people’s writing, and nearly impossible to catch them in my own.

And while I sometimes let “squirrels” distract me from my writing (the junk drawer, the sock bin, the yearly leg shaving and peel-off facial mask…you know the deal!), my distraction this month was the publication of this Christmas short story.

Although you don’t have to have read my Waterwight series in order to enjoy the messages within, you may want to read the books after sharing this short story with young ones this year. Imagine Odin telling the children about Jesus and Christmas!

I hope you might find me at the Georgetown (CO) Christmas Market this year, December 3 & 4 & 10 & 11. I’ll be there all four days! Local authors from all around Colorado will be there to autograph your holiday book purchases. Find us in the Community Center (613 6th Street) and help us spread some cheer!

And now, back to my novel…I will get the first draft finished before 2023!

Stay well, my friends, Happy Thanksgiving, and take breaks from news and social media (except my newsletters!) every once in a while! 

Categories
Author Interview Books Writing

How to Make Friends with an Orca–and Other Adventures with Author Robert G. Williscroft!

Dr. Robert G. Williscroft at the Georgetown Christmas Market Book Nook, 2021
Visit with us here and learn about Robert’s amazing adventures!

I was honored to share a visit today with Dr. Robert G. Williscroft, a retired submarine officer, deep-sea and saturation diver, scientist, author of numerous books . . . and so much more!

Here is the audio-only podcast version link:

Alligator Preserves podcast episode of our visit!

Show Notes with Links:

  • How was MileHiCon?
  • I thought I’d done some cool things but YOU ! Tell our listeners what a saturation diver is, and then, have you ever wrestled an octopus?
  • I read Slingshot. In a nutshell and to a layperson, describe this transportation invention.
  • Will it be done, and who will do it (did Elon invest in the wrong venture)?
  • What was the most challenging physical thing you’ve survived, and how did it change you?
  • You met Jacques Cousteau! Impressions?
  • Did you know a Margo, and no spoiler here, but her discovery was awesome!
  • Slingshot has intrigue, danger, sabotage, science, leadership, redemption, love/lust (do they all?)

Robert reads a passage from Operation Arctic Sting!

  • Why do you write?
  • Robert tells us how to make friends with an Orca and how they are the smartest in the sea world (even though they still don’t have opposable thumbs)!
  • From Starman Jones (for youngsters) to Slingshot in 2018 to latest pub (SUBMARINE-ER, stories by Jerry Pait), how has your writing changed?
  • What have you learned that has surprised you?
  • How have your life experiences informed your writing?
  • Doing NaNoWriMo? Nope! (I am!)
  • Names mentioned: Dr. Sonny White, Dr. Frank Drake, Keith Lofstrom
  • Tips and advice to storytellers out there who want to share?
  • Robert and I (and many other authors) will be at this year’s Georgetown Christmas Market! Come find us!
  • Below, the push-up contest with author Todd Fahnestock (watch my interview with Todd here). Robert then showed us all up by doing push-ups on his fingertips! We were still wearing masks last year!

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction novel!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!

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Author Interview Books Writing

Kathleen Kaska’s Cozy Murder Mysteries!

Murder at the Menger . . . and MORE!

Visit with Kathleen Kaska here on YouTube or . . .
Listen to the audio-only version here!

Show Notes with Links:

  • I said it’s been 3 years since I last interviewed multiple award-winning author Kathleen Kaska, but I actually interviewed her in 2021 as well! Here’s proof: Kathleen Kaska Knows Sherlock Holmes.
  • Kathleen gives us an elevator pitch for her latest Sydney Lockhart Mystery: Murder at the Menger.
  • She talks about how her writing and habits have changed since the start of Covid-19, and how she interacts with her Muse.
  • We talk about her multiple fields of research (this novel is set in 1953) and some interesting things she learned that didn’t make it into her book.
Our fearless author at The Alamo!
  • Sydney Jean’s relationship with her mother (can’t we all relate, even if just a little?).
  • Keeping track of multiple characters and possible suspects (and “spoiler alert”–Taco didn’t do it)!
  • Kathleen reads a fun section about an interaction with Sydney’s crazy cousin Ruth (another wonderful character)!
Order all of Kathleen’s books on Amazon!
  • Kathleen tells us what makes a murder mystery “cozy”!
  • We discuss the challenges of having your 1st person POV character get amnesia!
  • The purpose of the recap in chapter 23 (so helpful)!
  • A most unusual twist ending!
  • We talk about our shared knowledge of Marfa, TX and a possible Sydney Lockhard Mystery set in the famous Hotel Paisano!
  • We talk about the many projects she has in various states of completion, and about her newly released Eagle Crossing, the 3rd book in her Kate Caraway Animal-Rights Mystery Series.

BONUS MATERIAL!!!

Here are some videos from Kathleen Kaska:

Metaphor Writing Coach: https://youtu.be/X8za4cdJpr8 

Trailer for Murder at the Mengerhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2Pi4nueFu4 

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction novel!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!

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Books Writing

QUACK!

My First Children’s Book!

The ducks I raised from day-old ducklings have inspired many stories, and I finally completed the first! In this colorful read-aloud children’s book, you’ll learn a few things about ducks . . . and sing along with the “Fuzzy Little Duckling” song!

Please purchase a copy (or more!) TODAY


As a bonus, when you email me (laurel@strackpress.com) to let me know you’ve ordered your copy, I will send you my latest love story poem “Laila and Leo” . . . AND . . . my new short story “Muscleheads in the Mirrors”!

dreSample page from my book!

QUACK is the first in what I hope to be a 3-book series! I’ve done all of the illustrations myself, and the song is one I sang to my “girls” every day!

This story will leave you smiling!

Would you please share this notice with everyone with young readers?

And order NOW for yourself and the wee ones in your life!!!
Thank you!

(the Kindle version is best viewed on an iPad for full color!)

:)
Laurel

photo credit: Elise Sunday

Categories
Author Interview Books Podcast Writing

Matthew Meagher’s Multi-Award-Winning Debut Novel “Irish Town”!

“Irish Town” is set in the town of Ashton high in the Rocky Mountains. Ashton has seen its struggles and faces many challenges particularly from its wealthy and powerful rival, Cherry Ridge located across Powder Valley. 

The novel’s protagonist, and first-person narrator, Jeremiah Connelly, tells us the story of his high school peers who hope to save Ashton from becoming a modern-day ghost town. The story deals with social issues, family problems, environmental challenges, and much more. The novel concludes with a high-stakes competition between the two towns.

Readers have enjoyed “Irish Town.” One saying, “This book is phenomenal. Very well written. Many characters that will blow your mind. You’ll love it.” Another said, “Irish Town engages the reader with a compelling setting and thought-provoking conflicts. The ideal book for independent-minded young adults looking for a cool plot and complex, relatable character.”

Visit with us here!
Listen to my interview with Matt and hear his writing tips!

Show Notes with Links:

  • Matthew Meagher gives us his “elevator pitch” for Irish Town!
  • We discuss inspiring individuals and Matt tells us about how his 5th grade teacher, Ms. Shoemaker, recognized his ability to write.
  • I ask him some personal questions about his teaching career . . . such a funny embarrassing moment!
  • How does he find inspiration for his characters?
So many wonderful awards!
  • He talks about rivalries and alliances and his opinion about if these things are inevitable.
  • He reads a passage from “Irish Town” and then talks about adding the “countdown” element.
  • Why does Matt mention The Great Gatsby more than once in his novel?
  • We both express how much we enjoyed reading The Hunger Games
  • He talks about his next novel (looking for an agent!) and his writing consulting company Marsmen LTD
  • I ask him 3 silly questions before his shout-outs.
  • Link to his short story “Ms. Baker’s Home

Watch for “Sweet Evil,” Matt’s follow-on novel to “Irish Town”–which is also on Audible!

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction novel!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!

Categories
Author Interview Books Podcast Writing

Michael Kilman

A Most Eclectic Creator!

Michael Kilman: Anthropologist/Artist/Poet/Filmmaker/Teacher

My YouTube Interview with Michael!
Audio-only version of our interview!

Show Notes with Links:

  • Michael performs his spoken word poem It’s All Relative, which will be in his latest publication of art and poetry. Pre-order this sure-to-be stunning book soon! I’ll have a link to it soon.
  • We talk about mindreading, ESP, the senses (far more than 5!) and “Supernatural Agency.”
  • We discuss artificial intelligence and I ask when we might lose the “A” in “AI.” Listen to his wonderful response!
  • Michael talks about the troubles with communication today, and how not getting along with someone doesn’t mean you should actively hate them.
  • He suggests reading John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society.
  • How does someone like Michael unwind?
  • Find Michael Kilman and info about his eclectic creations on his website at loridianslaboratory.com.

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction series AND a children’s picture book AND recently published my first coloring book for the Waterwight series!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!

Categories
Author Interview Books Writing

Sasquatch Alert!

Award-winning author Linda (L.V.) Ditchkus has a series you’ll want to read!

Enjoy this fun video of my interview with Linda (and her Sasquatch buddy behind her)!
Audio-only version of our interview! Enjoy!
Linda Ditchkus at Salida Books event!

Show Notes with Links!

  • Author Linda (L.V.) Ditchkus tells us a bit about herself before I ask her questions about her unique 4-book Sasquatch Series!
  • She hosts the CCWE writing critique group.
  • Linda gives listeners her “elevator pitch” for the series, a brief and compelling sales pitch.
  • Her series won the CAL 1st place for science fiction!
  • She tells us how the idea of writing a sci-fi novel about Sasquatches captured her Muse and why she set the story in Salida, CO.
  • She talks about how the Sasquatch community she envisions (authors of fiction get to make their own decisions about this) differs from how most people might view them.
Linda at the 2021 FANEXPO Denver Halloween weekend! Everyone loved her banner!
  • Linda introduces us to her main characters and talks about how she was inspired to include them.
  • Her delightful settings are sometimes influenced by her world travels and adventures with her husband.
  • She talks about cultural differences one might find in a Sasquatch community, and how when an author is worldbuilding, there are many more things to consider and plan.
  • Will she continue after book 4? Listen/watch and hear her answer!
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson influenced her series.
  • She talks about the importance of reading a lot, and highly recommends Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral.
  • Linda is working on a new sci-fi, and she will pitch it at this year’s RMFW Conference.
  • We talk about Andy Weir‘s work and how he crafts his novels. We would welcome Andy to visit our writing group in Salida!
  • She offers some wonderful advice to budding and established authors!
  • She also has a short story published in this year’s competitive RMFW Anthology! That and all of her books are/will be available on Amazon here: L.V. Ditchkus
  • Here’s Linda’s website, where you can sign up for updates!
  • If you’re in Salida, stop by Salida Books on F Street to find Linda’s books!
Read it! You’ll love it!

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction series AND a children’s picture book AND recently published my first coloring book for the Waterwight series!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!

Categories
Author Interview Writing

Award-Winning Young Author Henry Dodson!

CCWE Vice-President Cam Torrens and I present Henry Dodson with his award!
Visit with us on YouTube and hear Henry read his winning entry!

Audio-only version of my visit with Henry Dodson

Show Notes with Links:

  • Henry Dodson took 1st place in CCWE‘s inaugural Young Authors Fiction Contest!
  • In addition to his cash prize and my book, I had the pleasure of interviewing Henry and having him read his winning entry (read his story “The Trees” below).
  • Henry talks about his motivation to enter the contest, and credits his creative writing teacher, Taylor Drusch, at Chaffee County High School with encouraging him to participate.
  • Henry’s favorite authors are Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and Koontz’s novel Lightning is a particular inspiration.
  • Henry used the main character as a Vietnam Veteran to honor his grandfather, a veteran.
  • Henry reads his psychological thriller “The Trees.”
Henry’s artwork of the vision of the stalking tree
  • He discusses his choice of Spruce trees.
  • He’s a “pantser,” not a “planner.”
  • He talks about how he ended his story, and when he discovered he was a good writer, and then gives us a hint about the first book he plans to write.
  • We talk about keeping track of ideas, and Henry gives advice to young writers.

“The Trees” by Henry Dodson

 I awoke violently once again. The whispering which had taunted me constantly was becoming louder and louder, almost too loud to bear. I sat up and grabbed my rifle, loading it through the top, pulling the bolt, and aiming it at the door. Every single night since building my Cabin deep in the Appalachian woods, something has haunted me, following me, driving me insane. I moved into these woods after my discharge from the Army to try to escape the constant horrors that had plagued me since the ambush, but it seems that my demons are chasing me and won’t relent until they’ve gotten what they wanted, whatever that may be. I tense my finger on the trigger of my rifle. Whatever is chasing me doesn’t just want me dead, it wants me suffering. Both I and It know that it is more than capable of ending my life, but I haven’t the slightest clue why it’s waiting so long to put me out of my misery.

            It wasn’t long after my injury in Vietnam that it first appeared. I initially thought I was just experiencing PTSD, or shock, as any person exploded by an RPG would. The doctors could explain away what I was seeing and experiencing and would say it was just a result of the attack on my psyche. When I told the doctors about the whispers, they explained to me that “my brain’s just rattled,” and that it would subside before long. They told me the creature outside my window was an effect of losing my eye, and that my brain was attempting to “fill in the gaps.” I should never have believed them.

            I blindly searched the floor next to my cot for my prosthetic leg. Dawn had broken and I was safe, at least safer than I was before the sun had appeared. The whispers of the trees had returned back to a tolerable murmur, however they never stopped. I attached the peg, which was carved out of Red Spruce, to the stump just beyond my knee and departed my cabin to carry out my daily dues. During the days I would hunt animals and gather berries and mushrooms for food,picking up firewood along the way. Most of these trips would go without much incident, aside from the odd rustle among the leaves or distant scream from the forest that seems to be common around these parts. Today’s hunt was different. The areas of the woods I had familiarized myself with had now felt wrong, as if they weren’t the same woods. I was no more than fifty feet into the wood before my skin began to crawl and the trees began to whisper again, whispering like last night. I turned around on my heels and began to sprint back to my cabin; I knew that my time was coming soon, but I sought to prolong the inevitable. 

            As I tore through the unrelenting forest the whispering of the trees turned into yelling, then into deafening screams. No matter how hard I looked or how fast I ran, the woods continued. I knew how far I was, I knew which direction my cabin was, I had been into this section of the woods every single day. Something was wrong, I had moved miles away from where I began. I had no chance, it had caught up to me. The only thing I could do at this point was pray that my death would involve minimal suffering. I dropped to my knees and began sobbing as the trees fell silent.  I heard the sound of massive amounts of earth and lumber moving, rushing towards me like a river of mud and stone. As the sound of snapping roots and flowing earth approached, it fell silent before me. As I held my head in my hands, sobbing, I heard a solitary whisper, frail and like sandpaper against my ears. 

“Look to me…” It beckoned. I was trembling with fear. It was the creature that had been pursuing me since the ambush. I lifted my head from my hands and looked up to meet its gaze.. In front of me was a gargantuan spruce tree, hundreds upon hundreds of feet high. In its trunk were the withered bodies of hundreds of  tortured men, whispering, screaming, begging. The bodies of these men, their skin fused into the bark of the trees, were all faces I vaguely recognized. Trapped within this tree was the soul of every person I had killed in the war. The tree’s voice, rough like it’s bark, called again. 

“Look upon me, look upon the souls you’ve damned.” I continued to weep as I watched the tortured souls of the Vietnamese Army grab and claw at me, begging for mercy. “You were responsible for the loss of these men, freedom fighters for their homeland,” The tree’s voice tore against my ears. “The gunshots, explosions and fires that led to their deaths all came from you. You are responsible. You did this. You are the monster, not I.” The voice of the tree had become too much to bear, the pain of what it had told me became too much to deal with. I continue to sob as I look upon the tree of souls. I feel its roots wrap around my prosthesis and drag it into the earth, and then I am urged by the tree into a deep sleep.

            I awake outside my cabin, my clothes torn and dirty. As I attempt to pull myself off of the ground I fall. My leg is gone, but so too is the whispering of the trees.

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction series AND a children’s picture book AND recently published my first coloring book for the Waterwight series!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

Please subscribe to Alligator Preserves on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and tell your friends about it! I’d love it if you “liked” the episodes you listen to, and I’d love it even more if you’d post a quick comment!

Categories
Laurel on Life

Friday the 13th: Groundhog Day Edition

“Let’s go tent camping,” he said.
“It’ll be fun!” I said.

I frequently forget that I’m half-past 63, and the last time we tent camped was at White Sands, New Mexico in 2011 for the Bataan Death March Marathon. I completed the run, but the camping experience was a disaster, with winds strong enough to snap our tent poles and leave us fearing an airborne transport to the next county.

Still, on Friday the 13th, Mike and I loaded up the truck with an unopened tent we purchased before COVID-19, our mountain bikes, his kayak and my paddleboard, and enough sunscreen and snacks for an entire campground. We hugged our son Jake goodbye and headed to Fruita, Colorado.

Our plans for Friday included setting up camp, getting onto the water, going out to eat, and then letting the sounds and smells of nature lull us to sleep as we snuggled under our comforter. We’d hike on Saturday, bike on Sunday, and then head home feeling refreshed.

“You can have the shooting mat, I’ll use the Army sleeping pad.” Mike was generous in giving me the larger of the two mats, though I vaguely recalled it had no loft to it.

My memory was correct, but hey, I could sleep on anything for two nights. The tent was great, and I covered our mats with one of those soft, fuzzy fleece blankets. I removed what I thought was a filled comforter from its plastic bag—it had been years since we’d used it in a trailer we once had—and realized it was just a spread. So much for my memory.

But hey, it was really hot out, and the tent was great. We’d be fine.

We were surprised that our tent site was designated as a handicapped location but were delighted at how convenient it was to the parking lot. Mike told me it was the only site available in the whole campground—Lucky us! He failed to tell me another thing he discovered in small print when he rechecked our reservation, but I’ll get to that.

By the time we unloaded and set up our site, it was later than we’d anticipated.

“How about we walk to the Mexican food place and then just come back and chill,” I suggested. “We have all weekend to get on the water.” It wasn’t hard to convince Mike, and we did our best to hear ourselves speaking over the raucous diners who shared the patio space with us. Covid restrictions have atrophied our noisy-crowd-tolerance muscles.

“Let’s walk around the lake,” Mike suggested when we’d finished our chicken mole enchiladas. It was a lovely evening, and it looked to be about a one-mile trail around the lake.

One mile turned into several, which was good because Mike was feeling queasy, and I felt like I’d swallowed the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Evidently, Covid has weakened our dining-out digestive systems too.

“Oh, I didn’t know there was a train nearby.” I smirked at the memory of past camping experiences when train whistles had startled us awake throughout the night.

“Of course there would be.” Mike shook his head and belched.

“Ewww.” It’s pretty bad when you can taste someone else’s burp.

It was still hot in our tent when we turned off our reading lights, so we kept one end opened. Although one of Mike’s superpowers is the ability to fall asleep the moment his head hits the pillow, his gut kept him awake for the next few hours. I knew this because I kept myself awake giggling as I tried in vain to get comfortable on my bumpy, fleece-covered “shooting” mat. I have found over the years that it is better to giggle than to weep over discomfort, knowing that—generally—it will pass.

We were quick to realize that our convenient tent site was also convenient for all of the sites beyond ours. Hordes and herds of rowdy campers shuffled by our tent throughout the night, shining flashlights into our tent and occasionally even bumping into it as they passed. The convenient cement pathway meant for handicapped accessibility to our site was easier for them than the gravel pathway they should have taken to theirs.

“Hey! Get the chairs from the back seat!” A man who’d passed yelled over our tent to his son in the parking lot.

“Both of them?” Son yelled back.

“Get both of them.”

“Both of them?”

“Yes, both of them!”

“Both of them?”

“Yes, get—I’ll be right there!”

Oh . . . my . . . God. Mike was about to yell something inappropriate. I giggled.

At some point, Mike fell asleep. At another point, the temperature dropped precipitously. I pulled on my sweatpants and did my best to conserve my body heat, pulling the loose edge of the fleece blanket up and over half of my body and curling into the fetal position under the flimsy spread. And at yet another point, the shiver-sweating started. As snuggly and soft as fleece typically is, it was no comfort to me that night.

As exhausted as I was, between the Jake Brakes on the nearby highway and the sporadic train whistle piercing the night, there was a slim chance I’d sleep at all. Still, I smiled. Ah! The sounds of nature! And . . . what was that smell?

The small print on the website which Mike failed to share with me notified campers there could be occasional wafts from a nearby decommissioned sewer treatment facility. Yup. Ah! The smells of nature!

Remarkably, I must have succumbed to sleep sometime before sunrise, for I woke from a nightmare to the sound of birds . . . and brakes . . . and train whistles . . . and barking . . . and—

“Coffee?” Mike had made it through the night without barfing and had the Jetboil bubbling.

“Yes, please!” My entire body ached as I unfurled it from its flimsy blanket cocoon. The morning was bright and beautiful, and we sat in camp chairs on the cement walkway, sipping our brew and daring any would-be encroachers to schlep their gear through our site.

“Are you up for a hike?” Mike knew I’d barely slept, but there was no way we were going to hang around the campground. “We can get on the water after, and then . . . what do you think about going home?”

I was glad it was his suggestion, and happy to comply.

Our 10K hike took us along gorgeous trails punctuated by wildflowers, and we chatted with a local gal who asked where we were from.

“You live in Salida? What are you doing here?” she asked, exactly what we’d been thinking when we awoke. Mike and I looked at one another and grinned.

Back at the campground, Mike glanced at the kayak and hesitated.

“We don’t have to go to the lake,” I said. “We have all summer for that.” It was all the persuasion he needed, and we made short work of breaking camp and packing up. I texted Jake our change of plans and we made the trek home, laughing about the silliness of what we’d experienced and happy to return to the sights and sounds and smells of the nature surrounding our serene home.

“You know I live to give you something to write about,” Mike said, smirking.

“I know. And thank you! What a Friday the 13th!”

But wait. There’s more. While offloading our gear at home, I noticed a new toilet tank supply hose on the kitchen counter.

“Jake? What happened?”

Here’s where I will tell you how much damage a split $8 toilet supply hose can do to hardwood floors upstairs . . . and carpeting downstairs . . . and the walls in between.

Lots.

If Jake hadn’t been home to hear the unusual noise upstairs, I can only imagine the devastation we would have discovered upon our return. Oh, and while we were driving home, my trip to North Carolina for our other son’s engagement party was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak. As I write this looking out onto our newly snow-laden landscape, I’m happy that I’d at least resisted the urge to plant all of my vegetable beds before going camping. I’m finding it difficult, however, to laugh over the piercing noise of the heating pads, blowers, and dehumidifiers strategically placed to blow and suck out all of the water from our once-peaceful home.

And while I know that this “disturbance” will pass in a week, or two, or five, I always thought Friday the 13th was supposed to be just one shitty day.

But okay. I can still giggle.

Laurel Stuff:

Meanwhile, I’m working on a new science fiction series AND a children’s picture book AND recently published my first coloring book for the Waterwight series!
(Photo Credit: Elise Sunday)

Find my other work here!

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