|Gayle Gresham at the Mulock Ranch corral in Park County, May 2014|
In my last post, Part 1: Circling and Story Round-up, I wrote about my discovery of "circling" and how it worked in researching my book (without me knowing it at the time).
When I started writing the book, my thinking went linear. That's the way you write a book, right? Start at the beginning and write to the end. Using my cattle round-up metaphor, I had to get my cows in a straight line, in the correct order and move them forward. And that worked just the way it would if I went to the pasture and started trying to make our cows line up in a straight line and stay in order!
Everything came to a grinding halt. 3 years later, I am still stuck and overwhelmed. I have bits and pieces of a book, but nothing that reads in order.
Now, in my defense, I do have a chapter order and what events need to go into each chapter. But I get stymied when I try to write. What if I forget something? What if it didn’t happen the way I think? What were the motives? Why did it happen this way?
And then I discovered circling and round-up. What if I round up my book the way I rounded up the research? I start in a broad circle and gather the story. That’s my chapter order. I’ll keep circling in, bringing pieces of the story together.
For the first draft, I’m finding the pieces, seeing how they fit together. I’m bringing them to the corral. I’ll keep circling, looking for strays, but concentrating on what I have and what I know. I’ll keep bringing the story in, tighter and tighter, until I have the center, the focus, the essence of the book.
While circling, I don’t have to have perfection. I’m just gathering the story together. What may seem important (so important it keeps me from writing it) may not be that important in the end. If I get stuck, I’ll circle to the next cow, the next scene, or perhaps another scene that will inform the first scene. I’ll keep circling until I have a story.
I’m not circling to circle. I am circling to bring the story to the center. Moving from the outside in. Circling to make the story complete. Circling to the end.
As a lifetime circler, (I've heard it described as circling the airport and never landing), I realize that this story must land. I have to circle to the center to completion.
I have numbered the circles in my spiral to be certain I keep moving to the center. Now I know exactly where I am in the spiral and what I need to do to get to the next circle. I have 5 circles in my spiral - the outer circle is a 5 and and inner circle is 1. 1 is the finish line, when the inner circle is filled in, the 1st draft will be complete. Right now I'm at the 4th circle. I figure I'll have half the book rounded up at the 3rd circle.
I'll keep you informed about my circling. It may seem bizarre to you (unless you are a circler, too), but it has opened up my mind to be able to write again. Which makes me very happy!
Monday, January 12, 2015
Friday, January 2, 2015
With the New Year, my thoughts circled around writing my book. Why can’t I write it? What is keeping me from writing it?
I thought of a Diana Gabaldon interview I’d read recently where she talked about keeping 17 tabs open on her computer at a time, writing one scene until she got stuck and then moving to another. She said that’s how her brain works. The word “circling” came to mind when I read it. Then I read a blog post Dawn Wink wrote on how she organizes her writing with a clustering, a journal, and lists. Once again, I thought of “circling.”
I remembered drawing spirals in school when I doodled in my notebook during class. I’d start at the center and spiral outwards. Thinking about circling and writing, I wondered about starting at the outside and spiraling inward to the center.
I sat down at my desk and drew a spiral. It felt right when I started at the outside and spiraled in. I felt the completion when I reached the center.
The word “Circling” stayed on my mind. Last night I realized that circling is like a cattle round-up. Cowboys start in a broad circle and move the cattle together, picking up strays and gathering the cattle in a corral.
When I began researching the story for my book, I didn’t start at point A and move to point B. Instead, I gathered information like gathering cows in a roundup. I started on a broad loop, learning the story. Then, I started gathering facts and putting them in the corral – Excel spreadsheet, notebooks and folders. I went after strays and sometimes ran across unexpected information. I kept circling, bringing in information until I had all of my facts. I know there may be some mavericks out there I haven’t found, but I know I did my best.
Next, I examined my facts like a cattleman examines his cows. Are they healthy? Or are they sick or have an injury? Which facts are strong and true? Which ones are untrue? What proof do I have? Who made this statement and what was their bias?
I got to know my facts like a cattleman knows his cows. I knew which ones had a certain bias and which were most likely made up. How? I found other documentation or proof. I culled the information that was inaccurate or false, just as I would an old cow or one that won’t produce any longer. I kept the info with a bias, but I know to keep an eye on it and not let it get loose.
Circling worked for my research. I feel confident in my research and know that I have done a good job. My next question – Could circling work in writing my book?
Part 2: Circling and Round-up
Saturday, September 6, 2014
John and I returned to Alder after Labor Day and, once again, searched for the Carothers cabin where my Grandpa lived when he was a boy. First, we walked along the beaver ponds and counted at least ten ponds. Riding back down the trail, we stopped on the east side of the ponds and noticed a trail across from the diggings. We hiked down the trail and discovered...
the remains of a cabin!
We are not certain if this was the cabin my Dad remembers his father showing him. But it's the only cabin we found.
To read more about Grandpa's childhood in Alder and our search for the cabin, read the post "Past and Present Alder, Colorado."
Monday, August 11, 2014
Come listen to the story of Ed Watkins and Ernest Christison in song and storytelling! John, Kate and I will be performing at the Florissant Grange this Saturday, August 16, in this fun showcase/Jam session. We have written five songs that tell the cattle rustling story. Honored to perform with the great cowboy poets and performers of Colorado.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
|Ernest Christison (Drawing by Katy Kinder from a photograph)|
Born in Missouri in 1852, Ernest traveled west with his family to the Colorado mining camp of Cash Creek when he was 9 years old. His older brother, Leslie, followed his father into mining, but Ernest preferred horses and cows to picks and rocks.
His first brand was recorded in 1876, the same year he signed on to round up 175 head of cattle for the ranchers Leonhardy and Turkey and trail them from Buena Vista to Denver to sell. The cowboys arrived on April 23 and they held the cattle at a ranch near Denver until the sale could be made. Everything seemed to be going well until a spring blizzard blew in at noon on April 25 and stampeded the cattle. Two days and four feet of snow later, the cowboys proceeded to locate and round up the scattered cattle. Ernest became snow blind which made it impossible for him to continue with the round-up, but Henry Weber managed to locate the rest of 155 head of cattle, sold them, and returned to the Buena Vista with Ernest.
Ernest had a couple of cattle partnerships including one with Thomas Cameron and his son, J.B., before his partnership with Ed Watkins.
If you want to read more about the outlaw part of this story, click on The Cattle Rustling Story.
Monday, July 14, 2014
|Visiting my Grandpa Ken Christison and his wife, Elizabeth, with Katie in Oregon|
In 1989, I flew with my one-year-old daughter, Katie, to California and Oregon to introduce her to my Dad's family. While Grandpa Christison and I talked, we learned that we both loved to read westerns. On the flight home, I carried a paper sack filled with paperback westerns that Grandpa gave me - Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, and Steve Frazee.
It wasn't until I started writing my book that I became aware Steve Frazee had been the President of Western Writers of America in 1955-1956. He was the third president of the organization.
I find it interesting that today, I happen to know the current President of Western Writers of America, Sherry Monahan. Sherry recently began her term as President at the annual WWA Convention in Sacramento. Sherry and I met through Women Writing the West and worked together on marketing for the group when she was the VP of Marketing. I am very excited for Sherry as she steps into this new role. This is one of her latest books, one I happened to buy when I was in Tombstone this year, making it even more special to me. Here's the link to Sherry's website http://sherrymonahan.com/
Westerns, storytelling and a love for central Colorado, the ties that bind a grandfather and granddaughter. I still have Grandpa's paperbacks and every once in a while I pull one out to read.
Friday, July 4, 2014
|The town of Alder, Colorado along Hwy. 285 viewed from the west|
In 1926, my great-grandfather, Lewis Christison, moved his family to Alder, Colorado on the south side of Poncha Pass where he worked as a miner and prospector. My Grandpa, Ken Christison, Sr., was nine years old and attended school at Alder. Grandpa told a few stories to my Dad in the early 1970's about his memories of living at Alder while Dad recorded the stories on cassette tape.
Grandpa told stories about events like an explosion waking him in the middle of the night during the winter. When he got up, he found his dad had shot a rat in the cellar with the only gun he had – a
In May, the family moved up the creek to “Old Man” Carothers cabin. On Grandpa’s tenth birthday, May 19, 1927, his dad gave him his first .22 rifle along with a box of 50 short shells, the only shells he could have until he shot his first rabbit. He traded three short shells for two long rifle shells for an emergency. One day, Grandpa was taking a lunch up the hill to his dad and saw two bears. Grandpa ran, then stopped and put in a long rifle shell. The bears didn’t chase him, though. His brother, Ted, measured the tracks of the bears and they were 27 feet apart running up hill.
Last week, John and I camped in a small meadow surrounded by aspen and spruce trees at Alder Creek. I called my Dad, who now lives in North Carolina, and asked if he had any idea where Grandpa had lived. Yes, Grandpa had shown him where several cabins had once stood and he had lived in one of them. I am guessing this was the Carothers cabin. Dad described crossing the creek at one place and driving a bit up the creek with boulders in it. The cabins had been on the right side of the road below the beaver dam.
We jumped on the 4-wheeler and hit the trail. We had ridden up the trail the day before, so we were a little familiar with what Dad described, but also realized things had changed since the last time Dad had been here forty years ago.
To get our bearings, we drove to the west side of the beaver pond. Instead of one small pond, there appeared to be a series of ponds or even one large pond. We could see glimpses of water through the trees for ½ a mile. But we couldn’t find a trail along the ponds.
Dad spoke of the road running alongside the creek. The main trail ran parallel to the creek, but was much higher up the side of the mountain. We found several trails down to campsites on the creek, but not a single road along the creek. At one of the campsites, the trail crossed the creek in the manner Dad described. We drove through the creek and up the bank.
And the trail disappeared. Fallen trees and washed out banks made it seem impossible for a road to ever have run there. We set out on foot but found we couldn’t go any further. We wouldn’t be able to find the cabin.
Disappointed, I looked down at the ground and noticed wild strawberry plants all around me. The plants were in bloom, no sweet red berries yet. Memories came to mind of visiting Grandpa’s mining claim on Spring Creek, the next creek over and of Grandpa helping me hunt for the tiny sweet berries. Sweet memories.
UPDATE: Read September 6th post "Cabin At Alder Creek"