Updates on Happiness, Raccoons, Writing & More!

It’s a stunning morning here in the Hinterlands! Hard to believe it’s supposed to be raining, yet again, by this evening.  I guess we’ll see. The only thing I don’t like about the rain, is that I have to go around and close all 22 of the windows I had already opened.

Since I last posted here, there have been all sorts of interesting things going on. For starters, my friend Diane came out to the Hinterlands and helped me FINALLY get my main barn door OPEN.

Yes! That means I was finally able to get into the main section of my barn. The part where the horse was kept long, long ago. The other section, the part where the buggy was kept, was really easy to get into from day one. And inside that section was the half-door for feeding the long-ago horse once  kept in the stall side, so I could at least look into that side of the barn. But what a cool feeling to actually be able to get into the other side and look at all the ancient stuff that’s still in there.

For one thing, we discovered that the barn had a front addition built onto it at some distant point in the long ago past. So the current (really old) front of the barn (pictured above) has perfectly preserved the original old front of the barn that was built in 1910.

I was going to get you photos of all this, but as it happened, at the last minute, a friend needed a place to store his 1965 VW camper van as he headed out to Yellowstone National Park for the summer. Since I can’t really afford to do the thousands of dollars worth of work that the barn needs right now, I offered him the use of the barn since we were finally able to get the door open, and now a great big VW camper van is taking up the entire space for the next few months…

Not this one — but this is a very reasonable facsimile!

 

There is enough room left along one side of the inside of the barn to kind of get one of the side doors of the camper open a smidge. So my friend generously offered that anytime I wanted to just hang out inside  the camper, I could!

Well, that was too cute! While it is often really fun to hang out inside those old VW camper vans, I have an entire new house to hang out in, as well as a really cool porch! But I did appreciate the offer, nevertheless.

My porch, by the way, is wonderful. Quite a few friends have already come by my new 117-year-old house in the Hinterlands  and they all immediately head for a chair on the side porch, plop down and get comfortable.  Not only is the porch really welcoming, but the screen door also opens right onto the kitchen, where the fridge is always stocked with beer. (Not the kind of beer that I drink, btw. Everybody around here seems to like Bud Light. Whereas, loyal readers of this lofty blog will no doubt recall that I like Newcastle Brown Ale — a far cry from Bud Light. My guy-friend was over the other day to say farewell before heading off to Alaska for a big fishing tournament, and he accidentally helped himself to my one and only bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. He said, “What the hell is this??!!” And I replied, “It’s MINE!!!” and I grabbed it away from him. My hostessing politeness only extends so far…)

Anyhow.  Not only is it so cool to finally have a great porch of my own that people actually stop by and hang out on, regardless of how deep into the Hinterlands I have gotten, but it is also cool that neighbors drive by — neighbors that I have not met yet — and they all smile and wave.

I don’t know, gang; I think I somehow ended up in Mayberry…

Mayberry — The Andy Griffith Show TV town

Yes, I am so happy here.

And for those of you waiting with bated breath on any updates regarding my raccoon… Ah yes. The dear little thing is indeed a female, and already has a pack of little cubs down inside the hollow of the tree.

No not these kinds of raccoon cubs…

These kind!!

And these kind get up onto the roof and create havoc a lot more frequently than the other kind do… Well, we’ll see how it goes as the unbelievably cute destructiveness pervades the upcoming summer months.

Meanwhile, I have been getting literally tons of inspiration for both of the mystery books I’ve had on the back burner for nearly 2 years (The Tea Cozy Murder Club: A Murder at Parsons Ridge (also a TV pilot), and The Miracle Cats: The Case of the Purloined Passport).  I just need to get some breathing room from the theater projects and the Cleveland’s Burning TV pilot. However, all of those projects are looking so incredibly promising right now, that they all seem to need my attention before I can get back to writing novels.

I can’t go into detail on the blog right now re: the one-woman musical I’m working on with Sandra Caldwell in NYC, but it is a really exciting development connected with the workshop/staged reading of the show. And it continues to bode really, really well for the stage adaptation I’m working on of  Tell My Bones, the play about Helen LaFrance that I’m writing as a vehicle for Sandra.

However, regarding my TV pilot, once titled Cleveland’s Burning but now known more affectionately as Untitled Cleveland Drama, I can say here that we have had interest in the project from several places within the last few days, including OWN, ABC-Disney, and 4 Arts Entertainment. This is all just initial interest, gang, but it still excites me beyond belief.  I came so close to simply shelving the project forever, after working with several other producers who wound up not really sharing my vision for it and who completely exasperated me. But after I hooked up with the EVP of Development at Bohemia Group (for the Tea Cozy Murder Club pilot),  things with Cleveland’s Burning came back to life with them, specifically with the EVP’s all-out enthusiasm for the Cleveland project.

Well, as usual, the morning has now pretty much evaporated while I’ve been sitting here blogging at the computer! I must scurry, gang, and get some other stuff done.

Hope you have a terrific Monday that leads into a really amazing week, wherever you are! Thanks for visiting, gang.  See ya!

“That’s all, folks!”

 

 

Home Sweet Home plus Raccoon

Long-time loyal readers of this lofty blog no doubt recall that when I had my last house (not the house I recently rented, but the house I owned before that), I was plagued with delightfully adorable and indescribably destructive raccoons.

Back then, I had a mid-century split level, which means I had 2 rooftops. Each rooftop gave the many raccoons hours and hours of entertainment all summer long, for years.  They not only tore hole after hole in my many window screens, but they also tore up roof tiles, creating many leaks that I always had to have patched. Then, my last summer in that house, they finally discovered the spacious luxury of my attic, below one of the holes they tore in the roof. But once they discovered my attic, they could not get back out. The attic was a walk up that you could access directly from my bedroom, so I would frequently be rudely (and somewhat terrifyingly) awakened in the middle of the night by raccoons frolicking around on the other side of the attic door.

I did eventually get them safely out, but they made me, and my cats, nuts. Even while, when the raccoons had babies and could be seen in the early morning hours frolicking in the backyard, and were really, really CUTE, they still made me a nervous wreck. There were so many raccoons in that old neighborhood.

Well, this morning, around 6:30, I was lying half-awake in bed, staring out the open window at the enormous maple tree just outside, and I saw something furry moving around in one of the hollows of the old tree. Even though I didn’t have my glasses on, I knew exactly what it was. I can recognize even a blurry raccoon.

I was so not thrilled by this. I have such big beautiful windows, with brand new screens. And no central AC yet in the house, so for now, the windows have to stay open.  But since this is such a rural environment I’m living in now, maybe the raccoons don’t need to entertain themselves by tearing up window screens and roof tiles.  And I can only hope that this is a male raccoon, and that I won’t be regaled with utterly adorable yet indescribably destructive little raccoons all summer long. However, I couldn’t help but notice when I moved in, that the house next door to mine had one of those life-like fake owls nailed to their rooftop… We shall see, gang.

Meanwhile, such potentially great news on the writing front, with a couple of different projects. I’m very excited!! I will keep you posted!

Have a frolicking-good Friday, wherever you are, folks. Thanks for visiting! See ya!

Ah, Hinterlands!

 

 

 

El Paso Redux

Recently, a much younger friend mentioned he was learning the lyrics to the old Marty Robbins classic, El Paso, because he was going to sing it at a local Karaoke bar.

I don’t know if he knows the original Marty Robbins version, or if he knows a more current cover of that song, but, wow, gang. For some reason, that really astounded me. That a guy so young would sing such an old song that was such a huge part of my childhood, and at a Karaoke bar, no less!

I mean, it’s a good thing. But the older you get, the harder it is to process certain things. Like: he’s so young, how can he possibly know that song? Or: I’m so old!! Jeepers, how did that happen?? Things like that…

When he said this, about trying to learn the lyrics to El Paso, I instantly flashed-back to being an 11-year-old girl, sitting at the record player in my bedroom, trying really hard to scribble down all the lyrics to El Paso as the record played. I would have to keep picking up the needle, catch up with the lyrics, then carefully try to drop the needle back down in the right place and then scribble some more, etc., etc. This went on until the entire (really wordy and long song) was fully captured by my scribbles.

I really, really, REALLY loved this song, gang, and I needed to be able to sing along with Marty. Even though I played guitar by the time I was 11 (and violin, and piano), my skills were nowhere near accomplished enough to tackle a song like El Paso.  It was thrilling enough for me to simply sing the song . I eventually had the song completely memorized.

I loved many of Marty Robbins’ songs — he had such a beautiful voice — including Devil Woman, A White Sport Coat, Ribbon of Darkness, The Hanging Tree. Actually, the list goes on & on. But there was never a song that struck me quite like El Paso.

Then, of course, when I was older and finally got to meet Don, my birth father, Marty Robbins became part of my intense but brief relationship with Don. Marty Robbins was already dead by this time, but Don (my father) was a big fan of Marty Robbins, and had even known him because Don’s late wife had been lifelong friends with Marty, having grown up with him in Arizona . (Also, some Ohio musicians had played with Marty Robbins on his last record — I believe it was The Allen Brothers. And my Uncle Ralph, Don’s brother, was  a professional Country singer down in Nashville and also knew and/or played with the Allen Brothers.)

Anyway, my first trip out to Nevada to meet Don, he played the Marty Robbins Greatest Hits album on his record player — the same album I had back at home and knew by heart.  Me and my birth father (who played guitar and wrote songs, as I did) turned out to be extremely connected through music. He was only 15 years older than I was, so we had a lot of cultural things in common by then. (We met when I was 28 years old.)

My birth father died 10 years later, from a type of cancer that we believe was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange during his many years of active duty as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. My brief relationship with my birth father was intense, amazing, staggering, heartbreaking, and, above all, memorable. And Marty Robbins provided much of the soundtrack for it.

I wrote a highly biographical, and controversial, novella about that first trip out to Nevada to meet Don, titled Ribbon of Darkness (after the above-mentioned Marty Robbins song), that my dear colleague Michael Hemmingson published in his anthology, Short and Sweet: Original Novellas by Erotica’s Hottest Writers. The book is now out of print; it was published 12 years ago.  Even Michael Hemmingson is dead now and has been for 4 years. (These are some of the things I mean when I say it’s hard to process getting OLD, practically overnight!! Where does the time go??)

Even considering everything I’ve just written about above, the thing that strikes me most profoundly about the song El Paso, can be found within the lyrics of another great Marty Robbins song from the mid-1970s called, El Paso City.

If you’re not familiar with the song, El Paso City, give it a listen (linked above).  In it, Marty gradually reveals that he believes the reason the lyrics to El Paso came to him so quickly, so vividly, and so completely –within the space of a few hours— back in 1959, is because he thinks that the whole story about Feleena and the murder in the cantina actually happened to him in a previous life. He believed he was the one who killed the cowboy and then was hunted down by a posse and killed, as well. How cool is that, gang?  That song became his first #1 hit and affected a whole heck of a lot of people.

Now that I’m finally in my new house and all my music is unpacked and back in my life, I came across my Marty Robbins’ Greatest Hits CD the other day and took it along with me in my car. Wow. El Paso sure does hold up well, gang. It still gave me chills, and I still knew every word to the song. I was driving alone, on a pitch-dark highway in the middle of nowhere, listening to it, quietly singing along as I drove, and it suddenly struck me as really amusing that an 11-year-old girl, sitting alone in her room, was so desperate to know every word to such a gun-and-death-ridden song!

And it’s so cool that a guy whose parents might even be younger than me, is learning the lyrics to that song 50 years after it was a hit on the AM radio. Life does indeed go on (and maybe the same lives come back and go on…) We’ll find out.

 

 

 

 

I love this crazy town!

One of the things that I really love about this town (est. out here in the Hinterlands in 1828), is how they just let the ghosts stick around. It is too cool.

By that, I mean that when buildings around here get old (and I mean really old) they just leave them sit and build something new right next to it. Or — in the case of the Methodist Church — right across the street from it.  (The original old Methodist church, made from wood and painted white, is still standing and is too cool, while right across the street from it is the “new” church, made of brick and built many, many years ago.)

However, older still and just up the block from the church… the pool hall, and a couple other buildings, built maybe late 1890s, based on the architecture, are also still standing, looking as if you could maybe just walk right in, but they are absolutely 100% closed and I don’t know for how long they’ve been that way.

The old pool hall is 2nd from the right. This is right around the corner from me.

There are plenty of houses on this street, where people are still living. The volunteer fire department, the city hall (a store front) and the police department (wedged between the city hall and the diner) are all on this street. There’s an old bar across from these buildings (above) that is also closed, but the sign out front of it makes it seem like you can just walk right in and order a beer.

Yet you cannot! It’s abandoned.

This old farm house (below) is not to be believed. It is right outside the corporate limit, where the speed limit changes from 35 mph to 55 mph and the road becomes a highway with farms on either side for miles. I drive past this old farmhouse a couple of times a day.

I don’t know who took this photo, but the farmhouse is already several years older now, and even more deteriorated, if you can even imagine that. I wish I could get a good picture of it, but it’s on private property. There are new barns right next to it. The farmhouse is set off on a hill, with 2 big trees in front of it, and — and I love this part — someone planted a ton of daffodils in the “front yard” and they are all in bloom right now! It is awesome.

On this same road, there are quite a number of houses, barns, and even a church, that are in this same deteriorated condition, with new barns, and houses that people live in, right on the same properties. (The old barn with the Mail Pouch Tobacco sign painted on it, that I posted below somewhere, is on this same road. The barn photo was photo-shopped, though. It doesn’t look nearly that good in real life.)

Right down the street from me, just over the railroad tracks, where portions of the original brick sidewalks can be glimpsed here and there as you walk along, is an old hardware store that looks like you can knock it over with a whisper. It looks like it’s from the early 1900s. It’s behind those buildings where the old pool hall is.  And people live right next door to it — the hardware store, I mean.

Speaking of the old train tracks, I found this old postcard online. The train depot that used to be here in my town!

I’ll have to follow the train tracks sometime, to get an idea of where this depot was, but I’m thinking it was over by  where the Dairy Queen is now, in the “center” of town. For all I know, the “depot” is still there, but being used as something else. The post office, perhaps? That’s along the train tracks…

And I found this photo of my house online, taken at some point when all the trees around had leaves. That hasn’t happened yet this year…

That is my kitchen porch, at the side there, and my horse & buggy barn way at the end of the fence.

And speaking of my new (very old) house… It has one of those unfinished basements, made of exposed stone and dirt. And it still has its old coal shoot, although it’s nailed closed and now vinyl siding is over the outside of it. However, I noticed just the other day, when i was down in the basement, changing the filter on the furnace, that the coal bin is still mostly there, under the stairs! It’s falling apart, but it’s still there. No one, in all this time, thought about dismantling it and removing it. They just worked around it, instead.

I get the best, most amazing, happy vibes living here, folks. I feel like the guy who first built the house, back in 1901, is probably still around in spirit. I keep wondering, if I got a Ouija board who would I contact? Probably way more spirits than I would know what to do with! So I don’t think I’ll go there…

All righty. On that happy note… Have a great Wednesday out there, gang, wherever you are in the world (physical or spiritual!!) I gotta get crackin’ around here. We’re putting up my new shower curtain rod today! Yay. Okay. Thanks for visiting. See ya!

My wonderful old horse & buggy barn!

 

The Robin

A few days ago, I posted here about a robin building her nest in the huge old maple tree outside my bedroom windows.

Here are 2 photos. One, a long view — you can see the houses along Basin Street and the hills in the background (also note, once again, how extremely close the front of my house is to the railroad tracks!):

The robin in her nest, just below the cable line running through the branches…

And now a close-up of the robin!

I try not to make her paranoid, but I do look at her all the time!

Born again, again!

I have finally settled in enough in the new house to get down to a daily writing schedule. It feels incredible. Not just the “writing again” part, but having ready access to everything I’ve ever written, published and unpublished, throughout the course of my career.

And not just my fiction, but also dream notebooks I kept over the years, where I kept track of my dreams at night, and spiral bound notebooks filled with song lyrics I wrote over 30 years ago (for those new to my blog, I was a singer/songwriter in NYC in the late 1970s into the early 1990s, when I switched to fiction-writing, exclusively).

I mentioned in a previous post, that even though all my “stuff” was in storage for about 2 years, it’s really been closer to 15 years that I not only had ready access to all my stuff, but was in the frame of mind to relate to it all. These many years that I’ve been back in Ohio have not been happy ones for me, and I had often deeply regretted moving back here.  I had really come to feel like one of the walking dead, but without the zombie-like features. ha ha.

But, first, the move into the Hinterlands in 2016, into a rental house, followed by a move deeper into the Hinterlands and into a new (really old) house that I bought this past March, has made me finally feel alive again.

I’ve titled this post “Born again, again” because in the space of 12 months (2016-2017), I nearly died 3 times (car accident, lightning, accidental overdose of aspirin). My life was so unhappy during that whole era, that, spiritually, I could have easily chosen to just die and move on to the next plateau. But I didn’t. I constantly fought to stick around. To stick it out. (And long-time readers know that my teen years were filled with awfulness: 2 rapes, constant abuse, drug & alcohol problems, confinement to a mental hospital, arrests, tragic deaths of people I loved. I survived 2 suicide attempts in those years and it was because, again, even though life felt unbearable, I really wanted to stick it out until it could finally get good.)

So now, when I wake up in the morning, in love with life, with my house, with my new tiny town in the middle of lovely nowhere, I truly mean it: I am happy.

Here’s a shot of my kitchen table from a few minutes ago. It feels so great to be able to really spread my work out again. It’s been since the days on E. 12th Street, in NYC (over 30 years ago), that I’ve had a kitchen big enough to have a kitchen table I could really spread out at while I worked:

Working on the stage adaptation of my Helen LaFrance script

I was going through an old dream notebook from 1986 this afternoon (I’ve recently started keeping track of my dreams again) and a poem I wrote about James Dean was stuck in there.

It was typed on my old IBM typewriter. It had some pencil marks, where I had edited it. And there was still tape on the corners of the paper, where I had taped it to my bedroom wall (I often did that with poems back then that I wanted to look at , study, and then revise). I had completely forgotten having ever written a poem about James Dean, although I did really used to adore him.

For readers too young to know who James Dean was, he was a movie star in the 1950s, who died really young. He was from a small town in Indiana, and went to NYC to study acting. He appeared in early TV shows, some stage work, but then went out to L.A. and became famous almost overnight. He only made 3 movies before he died tragically in a car accident in northern California. And his third movie, Giant, wasn’t even released until after he died. He was buried back home in Indiana, close to his family. His casket was shipped back home on a train. He was a guy who always wanted to be really, really famous, and I often thought that if he hadn’t died so young, on the precipice of real fame, he would not have become a Hollywood Legend. Meaning, that spiritually, dying young and tragically was part of the whole “legendary fame” package, which I believe that on some level, he subscribed to hook, line & sinker.

Here’s  a still of James Dean in his final movie, Giant (a terrific movie about racism, btw, that you must see if you haven’t already), followed by my newly re-discovered poem!

James Dean on the set of Giant, 1955
JAMES DEAN'S PLAN
I went to L.A. to die,
not in one grand leap, mind you, but in frames.
I knew I could muster
the sullenness,
make the necessary toss of
a cigarette butt
and the careless flash of a
shy smile.
Then I'd arc my life
up the Northern Coast
in a dashing trajectory of vision;
collide with
my tragic partner
in a slow-motion splatter
to timelessness,
then resume a more somber
parade
with my pine box shipped east, marked
Indiana's Own
but my ticket stamped
Hollywood's Heaven.
--MJL 1987

The world of author Marilyn Jaye Lewis