Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Author of award-winning Forgiving Effie Beck

Author: karencasey45 (page 1 of 3)

Whose Story Is It?

Saturday, March 14, 2015  Forgiving Effie Beck, a novel that took me two years to write, received the EPIC Award for Best Historical Fiction. Five months earlier it had won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award. Since I wrote the story without regard to most of the shoulds and shouldn’ts writers are hammered with daily, the EPIC announcement left me stuttering with confusion.

The Will Rogers Award: A fluke? I had to wonder. But a second honor: The EPIC?

I never, ever felt comfortable with anyone reading drafts of Forgiving Effie Beck. I wrote it in a style or voice I’m most comfortable with – like writing my journal entries about everyday observations. Agents, editors, publishing houses would probably label it “too colloquial.” The characters are far less than perfect, dreamed-up combinations of family members, old friends and past enemies. I put them in a setting familiar to me, then placed them in difficult situations. Words flew off my finger tips and onto the computer screen. I worried writing it had been too easy, probably not worthy of much. It was too elementary, too simple, entry-level work. Worse, I couldn’t name an age group or audience who’d want to read it. I’d always believed that trying to control reader’s perceptions stifles one’s particular writing voice. But I also believed my real story telling voice wouldn’t hold a novel together.

And yet . . . Awards? 

It’s true that authors can never be sure how their work will be read or interpreted, or what readers will glean from it when they’ve read to the last page.

We’ve all heard “write what you know.” Forgiving Effie Beck is what I know, some of what I’ve lived. I worried most about keeping personal agendas at bay – a point I believe vital to writing decent fiction. Especially if it is to have any universal meaning whatsoever. To guard against having my agendas seep into the story I gave the task of telling Effie Beck’s story to the characters. Characters like down-and-out Mike LeMay, heartbroken Red Kasper, lonely and isolated Effie Beck herself and ostracized Jodean Travis. They told my fingers what they thought, felt, how they perceived troubling events. All I had to do was set them free on the page. The voice, the writing, belongs to them.

I’ve often noticed I say, “Forgiving Effie Beck won an award.” Then I’d wonder why I don’t say, “I won an award for Forgiving Effie Beck.”

Now I think I understand – It’s not my story.

The Power That Beckons

A few years ago, I realized with an excited flutter that I had two or three days of free time between writing projects. Without much planning I headed for the sea, the Gulf of Mexico – North Padre Island – to be exact. The lullaby of my childhood had been the caw and screech of sea gulls. I received my first kiss sitting on a pier that reached far out into Trinity Bay. And, every summer of my youth I fished and crabbed the bays and inlets with my cousins until our skin was the color of ketchup. Still, during the three hour drive to Padre Island, I struggled to understand the power that beckons me south at times like that. It’s as if I’m called to heed a different code for living, if only for a short while.

After checking into my room I changed into a swim suit and dashed out to walk in the warm sand along the water’s edge. It was late day, a time when sunlight strikes the waves at low, long angles and the water shimmers clear and green as Chinese jade. I could not help but worry about Louisiana, my “sister state,” and how awful it was to watch TV footage of crude oil spewing into precious waters that literally housed my growing-up history. I wondered if people born land-locked far from any shore could possibly understand how painful it was to watch the ruin, to know the future of the Gulf of Mexico was in horrible danger and maybe forever changed by the careless hand of man.

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” Isak Dinesen

The next day I waded out to a sand bar, floated on my back and hoped the rhythm of the sea would swallow me. The tide was low, what I think of as soft tide because the waves come in and go out like shallow breaths. I felt suspended on the edge of some dreamy “other” world where all movement, all life is determined by the Cosmos. Brown Pelicans, awkward creatures on land and yet elegant and graceful in the air, sailed above me on a gentle wind, mindlessly following a DNA pattern passed down over the millennia. It was easy to forget a world of email, cell phones, deadlines and oil spills.

During the drive home I felt healed. From what, I have no idea. I stopped to buy a few groceries and on impulse picked up a bouquet of roses. Since I’d never done such an extravagant thing, I could only blame the wind and the waves, the pull of the sea beckoning my particular DNA. I rationalized that the roses were for the sea, the power that had rescued me, made me worthy once again before depositing me back on life’s shore to return to my dreams and my stories.

It’s a blessing to know there is a place at the edge of land where I can let go of the ego-driven drama manufactured by every day life. A place where the Cosmos rules and eventually restores the mess of humans.  

MY WYOMING ADVENTURE

Andrea Downing, author of Loveland

Recently novelist Andrea Downing invited me to join her for a week long visit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since I’ve always had an itch to see Wyoming, I accepted her gracious invitation, then forced myself not to read anything about the areas I’d be visiting. My purpose was to form first impressions from my particular perspective without any prior influence. So I boarded a jet in sunny, hot San Antonio, Texas and blasted off to a place of mountain peaks and broad valleys with no preconceived notions.  

Our first full Wyoming day, Andrea drove north to Grand Teton National Park. I worried that I’d not seen a straight line of horizon anywhere during the drive. Distances were constantly interrupted by mountains – the Teton Range, Gros Ventre Range, and Snake River Range. Not a single view of the horizon as I was so familiar with after a lifetime on the Texas Gulf Coast. I wondered how I would manage if I lived in such a place. All my life I’d watched stars spiral up from the flat line of horizon in the east to circle around to the west where they sink into an equally flat expanse of Earth. Sky above, Earth below, and only one clean line divided the two.

Antelope Flats – No flat line horizon

But not so in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where wide valleys are framed by craggy, sharp peaks all around. I felt very much a foreigner in that strangely cool – almost cold – climate thousands of feet above sea level. Sounds seemed muffled. The quiet was like that of a sound proof room. I supposed the mountains themselves acted as a sound barrier of sorts. At one point I turned to Andrea and asked if she ever wondered what the first explorers thought when they came upon all that beauty. Were they as awed by the place as me? Or had they seen so much beauty by the time they traveled from wherever, that it was simply another place to record on their maps.

At Grand Teton National Park we climbed into a boat for a ride around Jenny Lake, hiked what we thought was to be a paved trail (Will not mention that my travel companion got the details wrong…) From there we drove to Jackson Lodge for the best view of Jackson Lake with the mountains in the distance. I’d developed a really nasty head cold and Andrea was still recovering from eye surgery. We couldn’t help but laugh at our misadventures at times – like hiking an unpaved paved trail. We were an odd pair – me blowing my nose like a tuba, Andrea blinking like a hoot owl in sunshine.

Adrea enjoying the quiet sunshine at Lewis Lake
Exploring the shoreline at Lewis Lake

One day we hiked around Lewis Lake. At the end of the hike Andrea sat quietly on a bench taking an occasional photograph while I walked the lake shoreline picking through colorful rocks. Time stretched to late day sunshine and I felt healed from the stress of deadlines and the constant and overwhelming weight of internet connection.

We ate huge sandwiches at a little convenience store at Dornan’s, delicious ice cream cones at Colter Bay. We visited with a storekeeper at the historic Menor’s Ferry Crossing of the Snake River and in the same area, entered the Chapel of the Transfiguration where I stood drop-jawed at the window behind the pulpit. The view of the mountains would inspire religion in anyone.

Stunning view behind the pulpit at the Chapel of Transfiguration

Historic Flying U Ranch established by J. Pierce Cunningham between 1888 and 1890 (facts are not clear to the exact year) was one of my favorite sites to visit. A brochure provided just enough history about Cunningham, his wife Margaret and their attempts at cattle ranching that I’m inspired to follow up with more in depth research from home. Another of my favorites was Antelope Flats, where buffalo and antelope roam freely on a pristine expanse of natural grasses between mountain ranges.

The view from Cunningham’s cabin

We followed the Lewis River north and crossed over into Yellowstone National Park where we watched Old Faithful do its thing and then doubled back to Geyer Basin, a place of unearthly beauty, mystic and Mars-like.

Saturday night we rodeo-ed and then Sunday we danced our hearts out at the famous Stagecoach Bar and Grill where the same band has played every Sunday afternoon for 40 years. I’ve never heard such yodeling … two perfect harmonizing yodelers.

The yodeling duo

So, what is my unbiased impression of Wyoming?

It is a place of incredible beauty, rich in history, at times mysterious and as unspoiled by man as is possible given the fact that our world’s wild places are shrinking at an alarming pace. The one drawback? No horizon. But I’d go back in a heartbeat for more of its healing power and adventure.

I have searched for words of gratitude to adequately convey to Andrea Downing how much I enjoyed our week in Jackson Hole.

Thanks, Pal. I’ll carry the memories in my heart forever.

Andrea Downing will post her account of our week together today, too. Click here and see how her thoughts compare to mine. Both of us posted at Women Writing the West Blogspot a few days ago. Click on over if you are inclined. And, as always – leave comments. Writers cherish feedback.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Trails.

Research Road

Daddy’s Christmas Tree

This bust of Santa Claus is the creation of my sister, Cathy Casey Berger. She sculpted the face in clay, then added a lamb’s wool beard, a toy bag over his shoulder and a hood trimmed in mink fur taken from an old shawl purchased in a used clothing store.  She also creates full bodied Santas that stand 3-4 feet tall.  
A few weeks ago Andrea Downing asked me to participate in her Christmas Memory blog. She selected four or five writers who have an affinity for the American West and asked us to write about a Western Christmas Memory. I was honored to do so. Check it out: Memories of a Western Christmas. 

I submitted my childhood memory about selecting a Christmas tree to Andrea which she posted along with essays posted by Amy Hale Auker, Paty Jager, Rionna Morgan, and Eunice Boeve.

Christmas in South Central Texas, where I live, is rarely picture book perfect. Today it is near 80 degrees, overcast and so damp I can smell wet dirt from my high-up window. The trees are still green and wild lantana is blooming with total abandon. Christmas songs make me so sad that any joy I might have spills out the souls of my feet. (I’ll save the explanation for that fact for my memoir.)

So I have to look beyond TV commercials featuring snowy countrysides and roaring fireplaces, fully decorated Christmas trees surrounded by laughing children and instead “listen” for happiness and joy in my network of women friends. They are my touchstones, my anchor to all these essential. My women friends in turn, listen to me without judgement, offer a different view of what I might be experiencing, belly laugh at my corny jokes, understand my short comings and like me in spite of them. “Women friends” includes my two sisters, who survived impossible childhood circumstances with me. My sisters and I realize that by sharing what we saw, heard and experienced “way back then,” we can have a more accurate answer to why things were the way they were. I have long since known that my view was tinted by my age and birth order.

Now, it is as if I have the wisdom of three sisters and the insight of hundreds of women I call Friend.

All this is to say that Christmases past were sometimes painful and that has carried over into my adult life. Still, through the generous love and acceptance of my friends and sisters, I appreciate what Christmas represents. It is love and hope that endure through understanding. It is the offer of a kind shoulder to lean on every now and then. Both are gift enough for me any day.

Blessing to all of you and may you have the happiest of all holiday seasons this year – no matter where your journey takes you.

kcf

PS: Be sure to look up Andrea’s book, Loveland. It is a historical western romance, now available in paperback from the Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

Besos all.

The Next Big Thing Blogarama

Today I’m taking a trek down a Back Road that leads to the Next Big Thing Blogarama. Helen Ginger, author of Angel Sometimes and the soon to be published, Dismembering the Past invited me to participate by answering ten questions about my Next Big Thing novel.

Question 1: What is the working title of your book?
The title of my work in progress is Forgiving Effie Beck. I’ve always known that would be the title which is unusual for me. My last book didn’t have a title, other than a way for me to identify it in my computer files, until the day I hit the launch button.

Question 2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
A woman was reported missing from her ranch in a very small central Texas town many years ago. I had just moved to the area and felt like a fly on the wall as I watched the town’s reaction to her disappearance. I have several file folders of newspaper clippings of actual events like that. Some day I’d like to turn each into a work of fiction, let my imagination run away with “what ifs.”

Question 3: What genre does your book fall under?
Forgiving Effie Beck is definitely historical fiction because the story takes place during the mid 1930s. However, there are elements of suspense and mystery but without a murder or gore. There are love interests too, but again, that is not the driving force of the story.

Question 4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Wow. That’s a hard one. The main character, Mike, is a down and out fellow who finally lands a job as an FWP interviewer assigned to a small town in the southwest. He is thin as a rail, has hitch-hiked across the country to report in to his job. Leonardo DeCaprio would be a good “Mike.” Anne Hathaway or Amanda Seyfried would be great as Jodean, the central female character. And, without a doubt, Kathy Bates as Cora Mae Travis, Jodean’s mother.

Question 5: What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Effie Beck, who has moved through the lives of a small town’s populace “like brown smoke,” walks out of her house and disappears with dark secrets that elude town officials.

Question 6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
WKMA Publishing will launch Forgiving Effie Beck in mid to late March 2013.

Question 7: How long did it take to write the first draft of the manuscript?
One year. However, I work and re-work a novel until I think it is right then set it aside for about 6 months and read it through for clarity again. I change and edit myself right up to the last possible minute. I drive myself nuts that way!

Question 8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a harder question to answer than the movie characters. My story is more a compilation of themes similar to many other books. For example: Cider House Rules, Some Days There’s Pie, A River Runs Through It. But that sounds so lofty. I’m not at all sure how to answer that question.

Question 9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think the answer to the second question pretty much covers this one. Shortly after I moved to a small community in Central Texas an elderly woman was reported missing. I was fortunate to actually be a “fly on the wall” and could observe the town’s response to her disappearance. While everything about the story (except the reported disappearance) is fiction, the reactions, emotions, intentions of the those involved are what I saw, heard, read and deduced from my vantage point.

Question 10: What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
The over all themes in Forgiving Effie Beck are universal. All of us tend to misjudge others at one time or another to fit our own misguided needs. We deal with feelings of guilt, dread, and hopelessness everyday like the characters in the book. Effie Beck’s story shows how some people – fictitious though they may be – gained valuable insight from the string of events in the story.

And that’s it. My answers to the Next Big Thing Blogarama’s ten questions. I send out a special thanks to Helen Ginger for inviting me to participate and to Morgan Mandel – the brain behind  Blogarama. Be sure to skip over to these ladies’ links to see what they’re up to.

Guest Alice Trego

I first met Alice Trego (photo right) through Women Writing the West, an organization of women and men whose writing interest primarily focuses on the American West, both contemporary and historical. The first lap of Alice’s writing career had been in newspaper journalism. But, when her attention turned toward writing book-length fiction and nonfiction, she volunteered to work various positions in writing organizations to learn the ropes. Alice “retired” her many volunteer positions in 2011, dusted her manuscripts and is in the process of polishing them for publication. 

So without further delay, I introduce Alice Trego who will tell us how:
 
SLICES OF LIFE BECOME SLIVERS OF FICTION

“He leaned casually against the cabin’s door frame. As he puffed on his cigar, he admired the way the girl had stolen into his corral and galloped away on one of his best mares. Once she cleared the fence rail, she looked back to make sure he hadn’t followed, causing his counterfeit smile to materialize on his pocked face. He knew they’d meet again.” (© Alice Trego)

The above passage in my work-in-progress came as the result of a quiet scrutiny I had from a window seat in the middle of an airplane. I took note of people around me, but a man’s strange appearance a few rows ahead grabbed my attention. Most of all, he intrigued me with his quirky mannerisms.

I found myself drawn to him as a possible character profile for one of my stories. My sense of observation that harkened back to my days as a journalist kicked in immediately. I brought out my trusty notebook from my carry-on bag, and began to document his appearance and his actions. From the details I was penning, I could readily envision him as one of my story villains.

His brown, greasy, shoulder-length hair streaked with gray had an unruly appearance that gave him a look of having naturally wavy hair. When the tall man with the bony torso rose to go to the lavatory, I glimpsed an extraordinary strength in his swagger. I noticed cataract-clouded blue eyes that watched me as I watched him retake his seat. He had a prominent hooked nose, and he wore a sullenness on his countenance that perhaps he had carried with him all his adult life.

Shortly after my close encounter on the plane, I spotted a photo of a popular person in a magazine. Right away I knew that this person fit the profile I discovered on that flight. That’s when I knew I had a fully-developed, three-dimensional reprobate for my story.

On another occasion, I had the opportunity to converse with a young man and an older man, albeit a little secretive.

While waiting at the checkout counter at the grocery store, I noticed the older skinny-legged man carrying two packages of strawberries under one arm and a small backpack in the other. He appeared somewhat in a fidgety state, no doubt in a hurry to check out.

The young man with two nutrition bars and an orange stepped up behind me. As the line   in front of me moved, the man with the strawberries hurriedly secured his place as the next customer to check out. He kept looking around as if he had secrets to hide.

Meanwhile, I looked at my full-to-overflowing basket of fruits and vegetables and decided to let the young man with the two nutrition bars and the orange take my place in line.
I spoke up. “You can go ahead of me.”
“Well, thank you very much. Are you sure?”
“Positive. I can tell you’re just dying to eat that orange so you may as well check out first.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve been picking at it a little, actually.” His smile was infectious and I returned a smile.

All of a sudden, the man with the strawberries directed his eyes at me and said with a slight accent, “Would you hold my place in line? I forgot something and will be right back.”

While I gave a quick response of, “Sure,” he had already stacked his two packages of strawberries off to the side, placed his sunglasses on his nose and walked out of the store.

He took a long time to cross the parking lot and then “disappeared” behind a large SUV. All sorts of scenarios went through my mind — did he come into the store and “pretend” to make a purchase? Was he a vagrant who decided he’d better leave because of all the people now around him? Will he come back and pay for his strawberries?

By my observations, this chance meeting, including the dialogue, could be fodder for one of my stories. I made sure I memorized that informal exchange so I could write it down when I returned home and place that bit of dialogue in my notes. I have yet to decide if these two men will fit in as villains or secondary characters in one, or more, of my stories.

Nonetheless, whether there are silent observances or short conversations with strangers, I believe slices of life that occur in a writer’s world could very well become references to slivers of fiction.

Thank you, Alice. I’ll probably never again eat an orange without thinking of my characters! I can imagine you sitting in your photo of a Utah sunset (right) contemplating your next line of dialogue. 

While Alice’s website is under construction you can follow her on Facebook or over at LinkedIn.

Me?…..A Work In Progress

I recently spent a short week in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I attended the Western Writers of America Convention. It was a first time experience for me. I’ve been a member for a long time but haven’t been able to squeeze the convention dates onto my calendar until this year.

WWA has a warm down-home outlook on the business of writing while encouraging old timers and newbies alike to polish and publish excellent work and to follow it up with a stellar marketing plan. Humor filled every corner of every room and panel. It was a refreshing change from the rigors of setting up a website, wrangling with print companies and picking at my right brain for that unique twist in plot. 

In the photo below, left to right, Paul Colt (aka Paul Schmelzer), 2009 Spur Finalist for Grasshoppers in Summer, Tammy Hinton, 2012 Spur Finalist for Unbridled and Alice Trego share a good laugh.

Day one of the convention about 50 attendees took an hour long bus ride to the New Mexico History Museum and the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe where an extensive collection of documents, maps and books are housed. Downstairs from the Library is the largest photo archive I’ve ever visited. The Library and Museum proved to be my favorite take-away experience. 

Well, maybe meeting film star Wes Studi topped the museum visit but don’t tell anyone. You will remember Studi’s roles in Dances With Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans. He was Master of Ceremonies for the Spur Award banquet and like everyone else, mixed his own brand of humor into the venue.

In the photo above, left to right, Alice Trego, former President of Women Writing the West, Wes Studi and yours truly pause after the award ceremony for a photo-op. 

Conferences are a fantastic way to connect with other writers who would otherwise remain obscure blocked text on my computer screen. Most of us enjoy the advantages of email and blogging year round but sometimes it makes more sense to sit with a group of like-minded people to share and compare experiences. As far as I’m concerned, the value of networking eyeball to eyeball can not be over rated.

Alice Trego lives three, or is it four, states away from me and confirmed that she too found it helpful to meet personally with writers who’d had different experiences or who were at a similar career crossroad. We talked about the colossal changes taking place in the writing/publishing world and agree that change is good, but often requires a shift in attitude if we want to see our goals come to fruition. 

We all ask ourselves: How will our writing projects fit into the new system? How and where should we market our work? How deep do we dig to pay for advertising? There are no clear answers. A few writers in attendance were big-house, over-the-top successful novelists. Others had tip-toed over into the, as yet, mostly untapped reserve of self and e-book publishing opportunities. 

The WWA convention gave me the energy boost needed to renew enthusiasm for my writing journey. However, what has surprised me most is that I came home feeling validated as a work in progress 
– – just like my next novel.    

Special Guest: S.B. Lerner

Yodeling

Have you ever read or heard a word that hits a memory soft spot? That happened to me recently when I read the word YODELING. It made me think when I last heard the word and conjured up memories of watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on tv Saturday mornings when I was a child. Roy and Dale yodeled a lot when they caught the bad guys and helped the innocent. After their show, I’d climb the Chinese Tallow tree in the back yard and try with all my might to yodel. Chickens in the coop behind the garage went crazy.

You don’t hear yodeling much anymore. I have a CD recording of LeAnn Rimes “accompanying” Eddie Arnold in the song Cattle Call, one of my Dad’s favorite songs in which old Eddie (and later young LeAnn) yodel to calm jittery cattle. When I listen to it I’m transported back to the 1950s. I’d sit in the hayloft and watch my Daddy and brothers strut around in cowboy boots and hats. One of my brothers had an authentic Roy Rogers cap pistol that I coveted in the worse way.

Anyone who knows me understands my level of curiosity for the silliest things. Yodeling is one of them. I just now looked up YODEL in my computer’s dictionary. It says only that it is “a form of singing or calling marked by rapid alteration between the normal voice and falsetto.” Wikipedia didn’t even have an entry for yodel. What’s the world coming to? Think what America’s youth are missing in this “advanced” day and age of FB and tweets.

I guess the point for me is that I remember yodeling, which makes me remember chickens squawking, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’s life lessons every Saturday morning, my brothers and my Daddy. Most likely, in another twenty or thirty years our grandchildren will remember BLOGGING and wonder when they last heard the word.

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