Monday, May 25, 2015

About This Site

I've been trying to figure out why I dislike this blog so much, and tend to write far more on my other one.  The words and ideas are scattered, but I'm going to try to pull them together here.

Near as I can figure, I'm really just trying to use this one as a free website, something that's updated occasionally, as needed, with information that doesn't change.  This ain't really a blog in the sense of a forum for my writing.  I think of this one as my face, and that one as the murky crap that lies beneath, which might explain why I don't formally have my name attached to that one, even though I always reference it from accounts which do have my name attached.  I want to be seen.  I don't want to be seen.  I don't know what the hell I want.

This one is meant to be my, ahem, professional site, where I list things I've written, and try to sound all serious and grown-up and self-promoting.  I also tend to write happy things here.  I save my snark for the other blog, by and large.  But to be honest, I find this blog supremely boring.  I created it originally because one must these days if one is to be a writer engaged in the public domain.  Selling oneself and one's work is required.  Most writers loathe this side of the profession; I am no different. I accept it, but I hate it.  Nevertheless, this is my internet address, so you can find me, and, if you're interested, know a bit about me.

If you want to know what I think, however, you'd probably do better looking here.  I won't continue blogging at this URL, but I will update the pages with relevant info about my career, and how to contact me.

If you want to know what I do with my non-writing life, you can look here.

Thanks for walking with me thus far on the journey.  Peace out.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Finally a True California Girl

Yesterday, for the first time in my life I a) drove in Los Angeles, b) drove PCH, and c) drove Ventura Highway ("in the sun.....shine").  Despite having spent the first 25 years of my life in Southern California, more or less, I feel like I've just graduated to True California Girl (or is it spelled "gurl" now?).

We could never afford a car when I was growing up, and somehow--don't ask me how--I managed to live, go to university and work in the city without a car for 7 years.  Mostly I took the bus, which despite the best efforts of the Bus Riders Union remains wholly inadequate for a city of this size.  I leeched a lot off of generous friends. But I never had a license until I was 40.  Given that I received my license, and usually drive, in a large rural county of 6800 souls, to say that I was intimidated to pick up a rental car near Wilshire and Western is putting it mildly.

The day was beautiful--78 degrees and clear as the proverbial bell--in January.  I never appreciated how extraordinary this was until I moved to a state, Colorado, that actually has winter.  The rental car place gave me a sporty new Mustang to drive, complete with a thing on the door which projects the Mustang horse logo on the ground at night.  Wild.  I'm a simple girl; our community car is a trustworthy, beloved 2003 Mazda.  I don't have a PhD in computer engineering, which felt necessary, frankly, for operating this car.  I really can't cope with the idea that one can turn on a car engine without a key (though I must admit, it's very cool).

Idiotically, I was still trying to figure out how the radio worked when I got onto Pico Blvd. (looking for Dino's, which I never found).  DO NOT DO THIS.  Do not distract yourself with ANYTHING when driving on a major LA Boulevard for the first in a rental car you don't fully understand.  My guardian angels really put their backs into it, keeping me alive and out of trouble, but by the time I got to the 10 (non-Californian-readers: Interstate 10), all I could think was "never mind the bus riders, why don't the drivers in LA organize for a better public transportation system?!?!?"

As for the driving itself, I decided to take the 10 to the 1 to the 101 to Ventura, so I could drive PCH. (My husband never fails to crack up at how Los Angelenos describe the driving experience.  It really is straight out of that SNL sketch, "The Californians").  But I forgot this is Mudslide Season (the other three seasons in LA being Fire, Pilot, and Awards).  A mudslide on the 1 north of Malibu meant I was diverted over the beautiful but quite curvy Kanan Dume road.  I'd also forgotten it was the Saturday of a holiday weekend, so the roads were far busier and traffic far more backed up than I would have expected.  It took me nearly 4 hours to get from Wilshire and Western to Ventura Beach, which is about as "LA" an experience as one can have.  I enjoyed it as only a tourist could.  The 101 was largely a parking lot, but when traffic DID move, I was doing 70 MPH in a 55 MPH zone, while drivers flew past me in the two lanes to my left.  You get so little opportunity to actually move in your car in LA, I guess no one's going to try to stop you on those rare occasions.

All that said, it was a lot of fun to turn up the music and drive along the gorgeous California coast.  Even sitting in traffic is pleasant when you're in a brand new Mustang with a great stereo system and "seat cold."  (You read that right.  Not just seat heat, but seat cold--I had no idea).  I didn't use it, Except by accident.

I calmed my nerves once I got to the hotel with some Newcastle Brown because, hey, I may be a California girl, but I'm an Anglophile at heart, and I never had decent beer 'till I lived in England, so I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to British ales.   I sat outside, watching the sunset over the ocean, through the smog--which, awful though it is, makes for lovely sunsets--feeling like the luckiest woman on earth.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Writing A Sleepy Hollow Script on Spec

I'm back in LA for my winter writing residency.  I'm so incredibly happy to be here, and so blessed to have such wonderful friends (and such an amazing husband!) to gift me with 3 weeks to write each January!

I've been here nearly a week, but even though I've been writing pretty much from the second I arrived, it always takes me at least that long to start to feel human again, capable of engaging the outside world.

I stay with an old, dear friend of mine (he's not old; the friendship is old) who agreed last winter when I was first really inspired to write for television to serve as my mentor in a no-money-exchanged, no-degree-awarded MFA in Writing for Television.  I began my first spec here, drafting an episode of my favorite show, Sleepy Hollow.  Damn was that hard.  Damn was I clueless. At the end of my three weeks, Tim read my script and gave me thorough and fantastically helpful feedback, the best of which was (after pointing out how I had every single mistake in the novice book), "well, you didn't embarrass yourself.  Keep going."  In other words, I wasn't completely hopeless.  Always a nice thing to hear from a writer you really admire.

And I do admire Tim.  He's kind of amazing.  I've known him since he was a poor and struggling screenwriter and now...well let's just say he's not exactly poor anymore.  He's always struggling because he has exceptionally high standards for himself, and for story in general.  He's also a really generous, loving teacher.  Not everybody would be willing to give so much of themselves, especially as busy as he is, to help a newbie learn the ropes.  But with everyone he encounters, passionate about this work and life, he really tries to be patient, honest, tender, and encouraging.

At the moment, he has an overdue script to finish, so he's holed up in his office pretty much the whole day, every day, which I not only understand but wholeheartedly support.  This is how it is when you're on deadline, I know.  When I do see him, he's always kind and supportive (and as ever, hilarious).  It's exciting to be in a house where the Muse not only shows up every day but has her work cut out for her.  And I know once he's finished he'll make whatever time he can with me for reading my work, talking shop, in between his regular work of show-running an amazing drama.

So my job, all day, every day right now, is revising this Sleepy Hollow spec. for him to read once he comes up for air.  I put it through about 20 drafts last spring, showed it to him again, and he read it and said, "the first two scenes are really good.  They're professional."  As for everything else, it was back to the drawing board.  Since that was June, and I'm a farmer, and our season is pretty crazy straight through to October, I've gotten little done on it of late.  I'm also wondering if I shouldn't just jettison the whole thing and finish breaking this other idea I have for a Sleepy episode instead.

One of the really valuable things Tim helped me see is that I was so in love with my story, I wasn't servicing the needs of my characters and the series as a whole.  TV is a whole different kettle of fish from say, writing one's own short stories, which is the format with which I'm most experienced.  And that's one of the reasons I love it.  I love playing around in someone else's universe, but that does mean I have to play by their rules, and structure and boundaries are two of the most valuable tools, I think, in a writer's chest for engendering creativity.

At the same time, I'd love to try my hand at a Longmire episode (another awesome show).  I have a few more analyses of Season 2 Sleepy episodes I'd like to finish (and there's a new episode on in 8 minutes!! Whoo-hoo).  Doing those analyses has been very edifying for me.  I hope they're useful to somebody other than me (I am always in awe of and intimidated by the Sleepy Hollow writers' work, no matter how much snark comes out in my writing.  This shit is tough).

Good thing the farm is granting two days a week to write this year, even in the warm season. I'm incredibly blessed.  I'm going to need it.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sorry for the Lack of Updates

Hello Friends,

Thanks so much for stopping by!  As you can see I haven't updated this blog in quite a while.  I'll be cleaning it up, posting more of my work, etc over the next three weeks whilst on writing retreat in Southern California.  For now, I've been posting my ravings at The System Is About To Crash, Save What You Can

Please check it out, and please leave comments!!  I really appreciate feedback--writers need it to get better!!!

Cheers and Happy New Year!  Val

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Special Gift From Creator

Bald Eagle, the road from Sheridan back to Jentel

The Only Indians I Ever Saw in Sheridan, Wyoming

Safely encased in bronze:

Bird Woman (Above) and Sacajawea (Below)

Sheridan, Wyoming

"I am sorry for that evil man.  I feel shame that he came from my country.  I am sorry for that Sheridan."--Damien Dempsey, "Choctaw Nation"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Public Reading in Alamosa

On February 5th I had the privilege of reading before a lively crowd of 50 folks in the Alamosa, Colorado City Council Chambers.

The reading and reception heralded the advent of Alamosa's new literary journal, Messages from the Hidden Lake, founded by the Friends of the Southern Peaks Public Library. 

The Friends threw the authors, artists, and photographers represented in the beautiful, thick tome a lovely reception replete with plenty of food and an awards ceremony emceed by the Mayor! 

Below are photographs of yours truly with said Mayor, receiving the "Best Adult Fiction" award, and with head librarian Salai Taylor, our dear friend and a vital part of our extended community on the land, and spousal unit/head cheerleader, Mark Schneider.  

To purchase a copy of Messages from the Hidden Lake, please go to note that they are also currently accepting submissions of poetry, short fiction, photographs and other artwork for Volume 2.  They accept work from children and teens, as well as adults. 

Writer's Block

Three days left here at Jentel and I've a torrent of emotions swirling around inside.  I don't want to leave this amazing place, but I really miss my husband, my community, and our land; I'm proud of what I've accomplished but feel I could do so much more if only I stayed longer; I am rested but exhausted, wanting a break from writing yet slightly terrified about re-entering society and the workload we face on the land this warm season. 

Into this maelstrom yesterday strode Writer's Block.  The cow.

Yesterday, sometime mid-afternoon, I hit the wall.  You know, the one you hit after you've been running too hard for too long, or biking too hard for too long, or strawbale-house building too hard for too long?  At least that was my story, and I stuck to it for a good 12 hours.  "I have senioritis," I moaned to Danielle, my sister in community.  She wrote back, "Do you really miss emptying humanure buckets?"

Um, no.  Thanks for the reminder.

This morning, whilst journaling, knowing I had to get back in the saddle this morning and not waste my precious remaining time here it occurred to me that the wall I hit was not THE wall I thought I'd hit, the "you've been going at this too hard; you need to go watch Firefly for two hours" wall.  Nope, I hit the eyewall:  the wall that separates the eye of the hurricane from the main part of the storm.  I finally figured out, if you're stuck in the eye of a hurricane (which all writers are because the hurricanes are, of course, of our own making) there's only one way out.  You guessed it:  through the eyewall, and from there, through the rest of that miserable storm. 

In other words, "no one here gets out alive."

For me to move forward, I have to quit with the bs, and move from that clear, blue skied place where I sat and witnessed all the muck through the eyewall (where the most violent winds live) and get deep into it again.  I'm not looking forward to this, but I know it's the only way out.  

I've got a piece I'm working on in which I try to explain this a bit better.  If I get it done soon, I'll post it.

Love to you all.  Back to work now.  Best go find my galoshes. 

Required Reading Part 2: White Readers Meet Black Authors

A few Decembers back my friend Carleen Brice (Orange Mint & Honey, Children of the Waters) started "Give a Book By a Black Author to Someone Who is Not Black" Month.  Her rationale was simple: there's a tremendous amount of great writing out there by black authors, and everybody should be reading it...not just black folks.  But, with a few notable exceptions, black writers are not well-known to white and other non-black readers.  Gosh, I wonder why that might be...?

Out of this has grown Carleen's phenomenal blog "White Readers Meet Black Authors" which is simply one of the best literary blogs out there.  It's well-maintained, multimedia, always'll have a great time when you stop by while expanding your mind and your world.  Click on the title of this post to get you there, or just go to (best URL EVER!). 

So get your butt on over there right now!  Go on.  I'll wait. 

Required Reading: Nancy Stohlman's Searching for Suzi

From the Mid-West Book Review, which gave it 5 stars!

“The exploitation has to be turned around on itself at some point. "Searching for Suzi" tells the story of Natalie, an ex-stripper who reflects on her life as she returns to Omaha Nebraska where she grew up. Discussing the obsession with appearance and the concept of sexy that ranges from the glamour and stripping industry down to childhood beauty pageants, "Searching for Suzi" is a fascinating and very highly recommended read.”

Click on the the title of this post for information on how to order from Monkey Puzzle Press. Support small presses!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The View From My Bedroom Porch

Moonrise, Moonset

The Artist Studios at Jentel

For all you artists out there thinking of applying to Jentel ....... get your own kitchen, dining room, and bathroom, in addition to the one in the house........

Each studio comes with it's own bed, desk, sink, and window.....

.......plenty of workspace and plenty of good lighting for work at all hours of the day or night....

....a printer for you print-makers (and dancing elves), and a drying rack thingie for drying your prints
 (Fanny is not included.  Sorry.)....

....and all this makes for.....

....happy productive artists, like Gail Grinnell, Elizabeth Emery, Yann Novak, and Fanny Retsek!

Update from Jentel

Hi Everybody,

Sorry to take so long to write.  I've actually been busy...writing!  Now, there's a concept!  Writing at a writing residency--who knew?

I've been making good progress editing, editing, and re-editing stories; now I'm in the throes of constructing first drafts of the long pieces that will complete my collection, hopefully by the fall.  I've submitted stories to a few a journals, both paper and online, and one longer piece to a Glimmer Train contest.  Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Big news on the steepening of my bloggatista learning curve:  I finally figured out how to make pages.  Very exciting.  See all those things in the upper right hand corner, where it says "about the writer"?  Those are my pages.  One of the great blessings of being here is exposure to artists further along in their careers than I.  They've had lots of good advice for me, including the radical notion that I apparently need a website.  Well, perhaps some day when this blog grows up, it will become a website.  But for now, my geeky adolescent can at least afford the rudimentary furniture necessary (supposedly) for a working artist's internet studio.
My dear friend Kim (Transier) was asking how "Jentel Presents" went.  Well, I'm so glad you asked!  It went great, and I've heard rumor that Yann Novak, one of my brother artists here, has photos of me reading, though I've yet to see evidence of this.  If they are terrible he has promised to delete them without showing me, bless him.

The evening was beautiful and a lot of fun.  The good folks here at Jentel put out a nice spread at the reception they hosted for us at Sheridan Community College, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with some of the artists, writers, patrons and other assorted glitterati that make up the Northeastern Wyoming art scene.

Folks proved a kind and receptive audience.  I read "Negative Space," which I think I am done reading publicly now, eventhough it's the only story I have that works for a ten minute slot.  I didn't realize until that night that I published it ten years ago!  Time to update the portfolio, n'est-ce pas?

The other artists' presentations were fascinating--I will devote a separate post or set of posts to them--and my brother-writer Zachary Watterson read his magnificent essay about teaching in prisons, the basis of his forthcoming memoir.  It was a beautiful evening.

I also wanted to update you on the "to-do list fast," which is officially over.  It was like going to a resort.  I think I feel more refreshed than after a real fast.  I got deep into a blissed out place with my writing, while simultaneously taking whatever time was needed to rest, run, walk in the sunshine, and nosh.  I've done some fun cooking, including participating in a delicious potluck dinner party with the other artists last weekend, where we first shared our work with one another.  I've also begun designing a teeny, tiny strawbale studio I hope someday soon to build on the land.

I managed not to feel neurotic at all without a to-do list, which shocked me (given that it's pretty rare I don't feel neurotic about something), but that is probably how it should be at a residency where one theoretically has no responsibilities whatsoever.  But now, it's the last week, finals week, the time of all-nighters and knuckle-downers, and cleaning the bathroom for no apparent reason, and I've a list as long as my arm and twice as fat. 

I'm going to download some photos now and see if I can figure out  how to post them without making a complete mess of them.   Thanks for reading!