Write what you know?

How many times have you heard this piece of advice, and what the heck does it mean, anyway?

How could anyone write science fiction or fantasy, or describe love as an old/young/man/woman/girl/boy and write what they know?

I’ve heard that John Grisham writes mostly lawyer stories because he knows lawyering. Maybe he does. Maybe that’s what people expect. I don’t know, but my favorite JG book is “A Painted House,” told by a young boy on an 1950s Arkansas cotton farm. What did he know about that?

I recently read an article by Michael Farrington on this subject. He states that we usually interpret “what we know” as what we know about the subject. Anybody ask Frank Herbert how he knew about the planet “Dune?” No, Farrington says, write what you know about the story.

When we embark on a story writing journey, we usually don’t foresee each twist, turn, stop, and start. Rather, we start with a kernel of an idea. A “what if”, or “why,” or an image comes to us and we expand on it.

I narrowly avoided running down a rabbit recently when it dashed through the glare of my headlights. “Why do they do that?” I asked. That was the kernel, and the story grew from there.

From that point, though, you do need to know some things. Like how relationships work, how people struggle, how they overcome or fail, and why those things interest us.

What do you know about your story?

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On the road to Pyramid: Day 11/12

February 27, 2011 1 comment

Headed Home

Agitated Pyramid Lake

The wind still howled as we left for home, and the lake, placid when we arrived, roiled under its assault. Across the surface of the water, water spray danced instead of dust devils, and real dust devils met the water’s edge and slowly disappeared over the whitecaps.

Looking back toward Sutcliffe

But the beauty still captures our hearts and at 7:00 AM local time, we snapped this picture from the road, back toward Sutcliffe, our home for the previous five days.

Reluctant to leave, but ready to get home, we set out on the road. Just in time, we later discovered. Cold, snow, and power outages made life uncomfortable for the next week.

Traveling generally southward, we aimed for Beatty, Nevada to stop, refuel and eat lunch. Not far from Beatty, we saw a pair of brothels, legal in parts of Nevada. I don’t know about the insides, but the outsides are not as nice as one might imagine.

The Ensada Grill, Beatty, Nevada

At Beatty, we bypassed the local casino buffet and stopped at the Ensanada Grill for lunch, where we’ve eaten a couple of times before.

I had the chicken enchiladas and Rhonda chose (you may detect a trend here) the chiles rellenos. Again, two thumbs up for Ensanada Grill.

After a side trip to a stand selling honey (many varieties), pistachios, jerky, and sundry items, we took off again.

It was mid-afternoon when we hit Las Vegas, and we slipped on through without losing any money. Although we were on a beeline home, we had to stop at Hoover Dam.

On our last trip, all traffic went across the dam while a bypass was under construction. Now, though, you have to take an exit or before you know it, you’re in Arizona and have to turn around. Not that we would know that first hand, of course.

It’s still a wonder. Here are some shots:

The new Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge

Water intake towers at Hoover Dam

The Colorado escaping Hoover Dam

Intake tower

Then we were off again. Our goal was to get past Flagstaff, Arizona and its tendency for snow, maybe to Winslow, before stopping for the night. At Flagstaff, we refueled at a convenience store/truck stop and figured to get a bite, but the grill was closed so we snacked up and were off again.

We had traded time driving and sleeping and were feeling okay after 16 hours, so we kept going, and going…

At Gallup, New Mexico we hit the Denny’s about 2:00 AM (Texas time) for a refreshing breakfast and coffee. In Santa Rosa, we stopped for gas and noticed a hint of sunrise in the east. And at 10:45 AM we rolled into our driveway, 25 and 3/4 hours after we began our trek home. It was time, finally, for a nap.

So there you are, a trip from Texas through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and back in a dozen or so  easy steps. Thanks for tagging along.

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On the road to Pyramid: Day 10

Dawn at Pyramid

Pre-sunrise at Pyramid Lake

On a cool morning with just a hint of light showing in the east, I drive down the lake, find a spot to get off the road, and leave the car to head for the shore line.

It’s quiet out here this time of day. In the spring, they say migratory birds make a fuss when they nest on Anaho Island, a federally protected wildlife preserve. In February, there aren’t many birds about, although you will see a few grace the sky.

Life in the sand

But there’s life out here. I catch glimpses of a rabbit and some smaller animals I can’t quite identify. A lone coyote’s yip lingers for a bit somewhere up the mountain. And there are tracks all over the sand, paw prints, size 9’s, off road tread. All kinds of life take their turns at different times of the day.

The sun starts its journey through the sky as I pick my way down the beach, over rocks, and up embankments. It’s a privilege to be here and witness an eternal rite of day breaking in the desert.

Sunrise on the lake

The Stone Mother

I hoped for an opportunity to do some things like accompany one of the tribal rangers on his rounds through the reservation’s varied landscape, but it didn’t work out. I was disappointed, but everything worked out for the best. A couple of things we might not have had time for otherwise presented themselves this day.

It was an honor for me to hear the origin story told by the people here. In abbreviated form, it goes thus: Woman married Man and had many children. The children fought, so Man dispersed them in many directions and a few stayed at Pyramid Lake. Man went away also. Woman was so sad and lonely for her family that she laid her basket down, sat, and cried for her children. Her tears filled the salty lake. She and her basket turned to stone, and she waits by the shore today.

The Stone Mother

We drove several miles on a dirt road, and then walked the remaining couple of hundred yards before we caught sight of the Stone Mother and the Pyramid rock for which the lake is named. We had seen the landmarks from a boat on our earlier trip, but approaching them, we newly appreciated their larger than anticipated size and wonder.

It’s hard to explain the emotions we felt in this spot so important to the Paiute people.

The Pyramid Rock

Our time here was too short; we had another appointment.

A Living Lesson

Reynelda James was born on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation and learned many of the ways her people used to survive for thousands of years in this seemingly barren desert.

We met at Saint Mary Church and she offered to visit with us and share some of her experience. Monday morning I contacted her on the phone for her address to plug into my Garmin magic road map (GPS). She instead told me I needed take a certain turn outside of town and drive seven miles to the end of the road. And there it was, a nice place in the country where they keep livestock and the friendly dogs that met us when we drove up.

Mrs. James was gracious in opening her home, where we met her daughter and later a grandson. This was a day off from her job teaching the Paiute language to high school students in nearby Sparks, Nevada. She recounted periods of her life, including several years in an Indian boarding school.

She said she didn’t know they weren’t supposed to speak their native language. She and a friend would converse in it while in their room. If they had been caught, punishment would have followed. The students also did all the work at the school, including cooking, cleaning, and at jobs providing food and money for the school. Boarding schools came out of the government’s misguided attempt to “assimilate” Native Americans into the dominant culture. “Kill the Indian and save the man,” was the mantra. There were a few bright spots, but boarding schools caused a lot of harm. Run an internet search on “Indian boarding schools” for more information.

When Mrs. James married and began a family, she and her husband decided to let their children speak only English to make it easier for them. She regrets that the language was lost in their generation and works to revive it in the young. She showed us the text and workbooks they use in language class, and here I made a mistake.

The construction of the language was fascinating to me, and I thought it might be useful in my new work, which takes place partly on the reservation. When I asked whether I could buy a copy Mrs. James looked uncomfortable. In a moment she replied she might be able to get me one if I would promise not to use it in a work or publish it.

In the history of European and Native American interaction one thing has been common. The Europeans came, saw, and wanted what the natives had, and they decided they had a right to it. First the land and resources, then other things like culture and religion. From the “complimentary” use of team mascots (Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Florida Seminoles, Utah Utes) to product names (Tecumseh lawn mower engines, Indian Motorcyles, Crazy Horse Beer) to new age religion (you can attend a genuine “sweat” ceremony run by pretend natives), non-Indians have appropriated and used even the names and spirituality of Native Americans to sell products and make themselves feel better.

When I asked this question, I can only imagine the apprehension Mrs. James felt about this information being used for my gain. I withdrew my request and determined to be more sensitive in the future.

We continued the meeting and it was good. After spending most of the afternoon in this dear lady’s home it was almost time to go, but she had something else for us.

Mrs. James roasted for us some pinion pine nuts, a staple for her people for all those years. It was a primary source of nutrition over the long, cold, dry winters. They used to meet where the pines grew at an annual harvest for which there was a special dance and joyous celebration. Now they must buy the nuts for ten dollars a pound. In any event, she was generous in sharing this precious food and roasting method with us.

We went on our way, joyful at meeting and getting to know this wonderful woman and her family.

Close to the End

A stiff, cold wind blew when we made it back to Pyramid. We talked about leaving for home an evening early and beating the bad weather we feared, but it was late so we shopped for family gifts at Crosby’s and ate a quick meal in our room. We packed and went to bed tired, but happy with the people and places we had seen.

On the road to Pyramid: Day 9

February 25, 2011 2 comments

Sunday at Pyramid

The Pinnacles from a distance

This morning we aimed to attend church services with our friends from the area, Joe and Sherry. But first, we headed in the opposite direction to the north end of the lake where reside the tufa formations called the Pinnacles, or sometimes the Needles.

Thousands of years ago during the last ice age, this lake was hundreds of feet higher. In this geologically active region, springs (hot and otherwise) pop up in random places. When these springs occur under a lake, the reactions between the minerals in the springs and the minerals in the lake create these “rock” formations in wide-ranging appearance.

Section of the Pinnacles with a steam vent lower left

The lower lake level has revealed these natural marvels.

The Pinnacles are off-limits to visitors because of cultural and wildlife reasons, so I hoofed down a half mile or better from the dirt road to a place across the bay from the formations to get some pictures. You can hardly get a bad picture on the reservation, but these sights are exceptional. During our previous visit, we approached them from a boat. The shots from our latest adventure come from a greater distance, but are still treasured.

A relic from the past

There are things you don’t see from the road: all sorts of animal tracks and burrows, damp spots in the sandy, barren ground where a spring almost reaches the surface, an ancient, rusting bucket. And it’s a lot more steps to the edge of the lake than it appears from the car.

I ventured within forty feet of the lake, but stopped when it turned muddy; that seemed close enough. I stayed a while, snapped pictures, and reveled in the experience. Then it was time for church. I turned to leave and found I could not see the car where awaited my sweet wife and driver.

Where do I go?

Disorientation is a good word for my state. I knew the car was up there somewhere, but the where was ill-defined. So I started up the hill, using my footprints in the sand to point me in the right direction. About half way up, I topped a rise and spied Rhonda trying to catch a glimpse of  me. We were both relieved. With one more picture taken, we turned about and scurried toward town and church.

Saint Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church

St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church sits in Nixon, Nevada, the headquarters of tribal government, location of the school and other services, as well as many of the reservation’s residences. Here is what their Facebook entry says:

“Mission: To transform the Pyramid Lake community through the vitality of our worship and living out our baptismal vows.

Description: St. Mary’s Church, established in 1893, is an Episcopal missionary church located on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe’s reservation. It is one of oldest structures in the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada still standing today. The altar table and the baptismal font are carved from stones from Pyramid Lake. Water from Pyramid Lake is used for baptisms. Native spiritual traditions are recognized by the congregation.”

Coming from a different religious tradition, I was unfamiliar with some of the customs of the Episcopal Church. But we were welcomed and invited to participate. In a special treat, a young couple brought their baby and all three were baptized.

We met a number of members, among them a nice lady by the name of Reynelda James. We’ll visit with her in tomorrow’s installment.

After church, we drove with our friends Joe and Sherry Mendes to lunch. Joe introduced us to the land and community when we arranged a fishing charter/land tour in our earlier visit, and Sherry graciously helped us understand a little about the history and life at Pyramid Lake.

Lunch at El Guadalajara restaurant in Fernley, Nevada (see the post on day 7) was interesting. Joe and Sherry recommended the Lengua. I had never eaten beef tongue, but decided what the heck and tried something new. The texture takes some…getting used to. But the flavor was good. Rhonda had the Chiles Rellenos again, her new favorite. Verdict: round two at El Guadalajara a success.

After lunch we drove to Joe and Sherry’s house to visit a while longer, then went back to our lodge in Sutcliffe, then next door to Crosby’s store. You’ll remember from day six, that Crosby’s provides a little of everything. This evening, it was socialization with Joe, Sherry, and old friend, Tex, and a mix of natives and visiting fishermen. I even held an impromptu book signing of a picture book we made from first trip photos. A nice evening.

Tomorrow: The Stone Mother and a visit with Reynelda James.

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On the road to Pyramid: Day 8

February 21, 2011 3 comments

Visit with an Indian Activist and Spiritual Leader

On a cool, sunny Saturday morning, we set off from Pyramid Lake to Fallon, Nevada, where nearby sit the Fallon Naval Air Station (home to TOPGUN, aka The Naval Fighter Weapons School) and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe reservation.

We did not see any Tom Cruise types, but went to the reservation for a visit with a living piece of history.

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall was born in 1929 on the Red Lake Indian Reservation (Minnesota) into the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. He spent ten years in an Indian boarding school and eventually wound up in the San Francisco Bay area, where in the 1960s he built a successful extermination company. He never stopped caring about issues affecting Native American peoples.

In 1969, he was instrumental in the occupation by a group of Indian individuals of the abandoned prison on Alcatraz Island. His activism did not go unnoticed, however. Despite his insistence on non-violent actions, he attracted the interest of state and federal authorities. In short order, he lost his business and moved his family to the home reservation of his lovely wife, Bobbie, to the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe Reservation.

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, Roundhouse Gallery

He rebuilt his life there as an artist. His home and the art gallery beside his house are filled with his handicraft. Stone and wood are his primary media, but paintings and jewelry are also represented. We have an eye on a certain sculpture, and perhaps one day we will be able to purchase it.

Fortunate Eagle welcomed us into his home and talked about all kinds of things. In a surprise to me, we are both writing books which involve “little people,” in what would popularly be called a “paranormal” genre. His is intended for younger readers. The parts of the early draft he read to us are delightful.

We also discussed less pleasant subjects, including the treatment of indigenous peoples by the Europeans who claimed this continent. His understandable anger and resentment are balanced with humor and a desire for beneficial change.

Of course, this is an incomplete sketch of the man and his experiences. He has written a couple of memoirs and made a video of his life. You can find more about him if you like. Just run an internet search and you’ll find lots of information.

We were enriched and blessed by the visit to his home. Thank you Bobbie and Fortunate Eagle, our new friends.

Roundhouse Gallery, Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall

The Main Street Cafe

In our continuing series about the restaurants we visited, we bring you another out-of-the-way eatery.

Maine Street Cafe, Fallon, Nevada

The Maine Street Cafe in Fallon features an eclectic menu for breakfast and lunch, dinner on special occasions (like Valentine’s Day), and they provide full-service catering.

On our visit this day, I ordered a chicken burrito with rice and beans. I expected a burrito with rice and beans on the side, and that’s what I received, but they were all on the in-side. Pretty tasty that way, especially with the sauce that tasted slightly vinaigrette instead of the salsa I’m used to. A nice break.

Rhonda (my sweet wife and hot girlfriend) had a chicken panini sandwich she raved about.

Susan of The Maine Street Cafe

Our host, Susan, talked to us about starting the restaurant. They bought the old house, then gutted and retrofitted the neat, roomy building to make a state-of-the-art facility. Then she recounted the difficult times when road construction all but landlocked them. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and recommend it.

Maine Street Cafe
810 S. Maine St.Fallon, NV 89406
(775) 423-1830

On the road to Pyramid: Day 7

It’s an odd thing being at Pyramid Lake. The Truckee River runs from high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Lake Tahoe, through the Reno area, northward through the desert, and finally into Pyramid Lake, from where the water escapes only through evaporation. It’s the lowest point around here, and yet it feels like we are up in the mountains. It’s hard to remember that the elevation is about 3800 feet, not much higher than back home in Lubbock, Texas.

Pyramid Lake High School

So anyway, on this crisp morning Rhonda and I got up and went to school. Yep, that’s right, high school. We were guest speakers in Mrs. Fuller’s four English classes. We talked about the importance of writing in college and careers and the joys and relative compensation of fiction writing. I hope they got something out of it, because we enjoyed the interaction.

Afterward I was able to visit with the tribal chairman about a couple of book projects. One is a picture book Rhonda and I produced after our last trip. They may be able to sell it at some of the tribe’s retail outlets and perhaps help the bottom line at the reservation. The other book is still a concept, but it’s set at Pyramid Lake and we’re here doing research. Whatever happens, it’s really been a rewarding experience meeting the people here.

El Guadalajara Restaurant

Then we decided to get something to eat. Isn’t that what life is all about? Off to Fernley, a town located on I-80 north of Reno about 30 miles. We wound up at Guadalajara Restaurant. The setting was nice, but the food…excellent. It was the culinary highlight of our trip so far. Rhonda had the chile rellenos that she allowed as the best she had eaten. I tried something new for me in the pork carnitas. Yum. We topped it off by sharing a flan. I don’t normally like these so much, but it was very good.

Juan, our host, said they have been at this place for eight years and for three years before in another location.

Juan and Josue of El Guadalajara

Two thumbs up for Guadalajara Restaurant.

Tomorrow: an interview with Indian activist.

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On the road to Pyramid: Day 6

Day six saw us drive from Fresno, California to Sutcliffe, Nevada, a small town in the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe reservation. From warm Fresno, we traveled north to Sacramento, California and east into Nevada via Interstate 80 over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I-80 runs through Donner pass, a famous gateway between Nevada and California.

Pyramid Lake, featuring namesake Pyramid Rock

The highway was clear all the way, but up in the mountains snow blanketed the ground in many areas. After sixties and seventies, low forty degree weather seemed a bit chilly. At Reno, Nevada we turned north toward Pyramid Lake. Soon, we got our second first look at this gorgeous lake.

The water ranges from deep blue to turquoise green, depending on the light and other conditions. This evening it was somewhere in between. We turned west and paralleled the lake to Sutcliffe and our lodgings for the next few days. At Crosby’s Lodge, we secured a room, unpacked, and headed to the store for a quick supper.

The bar at Crosby's

The store is amazing. It’s a combination casino, bar and grill, and grocery store where they sell everything from trailer hitch balls to tackle to Indian-made arts and crafts.  On the weekend you even get a DJ named Razz. I don’t know how they get that much stuff in a small area. I think there is some trans-spatial interdimensional wormhole time warp thing going on.

Crosby's store

Anyway, we sat down to a good old-fashioned burger, fries, and nacho dinner before we waddled back to the room to call it a night. Welcome to Pyramid Lake.

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