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Chasing Horny Toads–Desert Christmas Tales

cht-xmasAuthor’s Note

 As a young girl growing up in northwestern Arizona’s Mohave Desert in the 1950s, I was mystified by Christmas songs about merry gentlemen wassailing, fa-la-la-ing in holly-decked halls, and riding in a one horse open sleigh across the snow.

I was the first child of a pair of wunderkind, busy growing kids and fortune in the tiny town of Kingman on Route 66. I’d never dashed through the snow in a sleigh but had often bounced around the desert in an open heap of welding and engine named Sputnik. My mechanical genius father built Sputnik on a Ford Model A frame as an off road hunting buggy and Christmas tree hauler. The vehicle was named Sputnik because Dad drove it so fast over rough terrain that passengers could be launched into space. He considered four-wheel drive a waste of money. Dad had faith in his proven ability to put any vehicle between whatever rock and a hard place he wanted. And get it unstuck, often with a monstrous jack that his truck seldom left home without. Thank God!

I learned to pray on Rucker family outings while side-hilling through the steep, cactus and juniper studded foothills of the Hualapai Mountains and bumping over the rocky plains down to the Colorado River. Dad knew that handsome and terrible desert like his own face and he wanted his children to love it as he did. Perhaps it was because I’d become a really good pray-er that our family was blessed with interesting times we not only lived through but enjoyed. Mostly.

So it is with gratitude and a joyful heart that I offer these Christmas tales of a magical Arizona childhood with my parents, Raymond and Norma Jean Rucker, and the little kids—my sister, Rhonda and my brother, Gary.

Melinda Rucker Haynes

 

On Santa’s Naughty List

There were rules about Christmas at our house.

In addition to the constant threat of getting on Santa’s Naughty List—apparently Mother had a secret reporting line to Ole Saint Nick—there would be no tree or decorating until two weeks before December 25.

Nothing Christmasy dared show up in Kingman before the first week in December, except the Sears & Roebuck Christmas Catalog.

And there weren’t any fresh cut tree lots in our windblown high desert town. Most families we knew ventured out to the foothills of the Hualapai Mountains some ten miles south of town to cut their own scrawny piñon pine trees.

My grandmother, a nurse at Mohave County General Hospital, never hunted Christmas trees with us. She ordered in a shiny aluminum FAKE tree which she decorated with blue lights and matching glass balls. That astonishing anachronism stood the next twenty Christmases in her Craftsman bungalow filled with Mission-style furniture and Navajo rugs and baskets. However, this Desert Christmas Tale isn’t about decorating or trees, but how I found myself on Santa’s Naughty List.

The days following Thanksgiving to the first of December were a particularly mercurial time for me and the other Baby Boomer kids in our neighborhood known to some as Fertile Acres. Emotions and energy ran high, often coming out in outrageous boasting like “Santa’s gonna bring me a new bike because I’ve been really good.”

Nobody was that good! That kind of stupid talk necessarily resulted in shin-kicking combat to crippling death if the bragger didn’t shut up.

A neighbor boy started in one bright, windy December day about how good he was—at just about everything. An outright lie. I’d overheard some neighbors gossip that his big family was struggling, with what I wasn’t sure. But I did know I had to cut him some slack because it was near Christmas and he was one of eight or fifteen kids. So I didn’t argue or kick him when he challenged me to a contest to see who could throw a rock through our open garage window without hitting the glass.

Tommy’s aim was all wrong. His rock thwacked the stucco wall beneath the high window. I found a bigger rock, a boulder, really. Took aim and loosed my winning throw through the open window and CRACK! I raced around the corner of the garage to the front, looking for my rock.

“I don’t see it. It didn’t go in,” Tommy crowed and pushed past me into the garage to the front of our family’s two-tone Ford Crown Victoria.

“Yes, it did. I win!” I grabbed up my rock from the concrete floor, waving it at Tommy.

Tommy’s eyes bugged and his mouth dropped open. “Uh ohhhhh.”

I came closer to see what the uh oh was about.

Mother and Dad were going to kill me!

My winning rock had shattered the windshield of the first brand new car of two hardworking children of the Depression!

Tommy evaporated. I was left alone considering my pending Number One position on Santa’s Naughty List. Maybe I could somehow save my Christmas with good, plain truth, which, according to Mother, I was not exactly known for. I took a deep breath and death marched into the house where my parents learned their formerly beloved first born was the unfortunate idiot who was playing with a tiny stone that mistakenly flew through the garage window and the car somehow got scratched.

“Oh my God!” Mother shrieked and grabbed up the phone.

She really did have a direct line to Santa!

I dashed out the back door, across the dirt yard to the detached garage. Dad stood beside his new car with the broken windshield, hands on hips, shaking his head.

Could I persuade him to cut the telephone wire to the house, do something, anything to keep Mother from phoning Santa Claus?

I was in tears now and pretty scared. “Daddy, it was an accident. Does Mother really have to call Santa Claus about what I did?”

His lips tweaked up at the corners as he fixed his twinkling blue eyes on me. “She’s not calling Santa Claus. Mother’s reporting your accident to State Farm Insurance.”

Joy to the world!

Veterans Day in Northwestern Arizona: Blowing Down Tombstones and Pancakes

dad-on-uss-bluefishOn Veterans Day I always think of my dad, an Arizona cowboy the US Navy sent to the South Pacific. The nineteen-year-old went from rounding up cattle in the wide open spaces of the northwestern Arizona desert to riding herd on two big diesel engines in the claustrophobic confines of a submarine. Dad always preferred horsepower to horses, so when he was discharged from the Navy at the end of WWII he didn’t go back to the ranch on the banks of the Colorado River. Instead he married his childhood sweetheart and moved to town to make three Baby Boomer children and his fortune in the automotive business.

Dad loved to tell his submarine stories and reminisce with other vets at the monthly American Legion Post meetings. On November 11, Veterans Day, before sunrise, Dad got out of bed, put on his blue and gold Legion garrison cap with Squawjame Post 14 in gold embroidery, and hurried from the house. With me usually begging to go along.

“Please, please, Dad. I wanna watch you blow down the tombstones.”

“Sorry, honey, no girls allowed. Reveille Club members only.” Dad gave me a wink and a smile, jumped in his pickup and drove away into the cold, windy dark.

About an hour later, just at official sunrise, eleven huge booms, one after another, rocked the entire town. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the Legionnaire’s weren’t at the cemetery giving the dead an eleven cannon salute. Dad and the Reveille Club boys were launching mortar rounds from the courthouse steps. No tombstones or honored dead were ever in danger during the Kingman Veterans Day proceedings. That can’t be said of the Reveille Club members who always gathered in the Legion Post bar for after-salute drinks and war stories, while the Legion Auxiliary women prepared their annual pancake breakfast in Post’s kitchen.

When I was eight or nine my parents volunteered me to serve at the Legion breakfast, carrying juice, coffee, cooked to order eggs, bacon and stacks of pancakes to hungry Legionnaires and townspeople crowding into long tables covered with white butcher paper. Usually, the first to weave in direct from the Post bar was an elderly man in a very tight wool navy blue sailor’s uniform. His white t-shirt covered belly squished out from the bottom of his jumper as his old-fashioned dark wool flat hat sporting a navy ribbon around the crown slipped down over one ear. The timeworn sailor had a sweet smile and friendly bloodshot eyes. He grabbed the back of the folding chair, squared up with it and lowered himself.  Once he was anchored on the seat, his eyelids drifted shut and the slow listing began — to starboard, back to midship and over to port. I set his plate and coffee down in front of him and lightly touched his shoulder to wake him. His eyelids rose to half-mast and he grinned, reaching for his cup.

“Down the hatch,” he slurred and fell face first into his short stack and scrambled eggs.

The well-oiled veteran in a doughboy uniform sitting next to him reached over with his left hand, pulled the old sailor out of his pancakes and held him back in his chair with one arm. The doughboy continued to shovel eggs into his own mouth while the sailor had a catnap behind his fellow veteran’s protective arm. No one seemed to mind or be offended by the public though usually quite polite drunkenness of the old warriors. Instead, they were treated with respect and affection on their one day to be honored for their service—Veterans Day in northwestern Arizona.

Have You Written Anything Important I’ve Read?

I have six traditionally published novels in the genres of romance, paranormal thriller, and young adult paranormal. My books have won sixteen writing/literary awards. Yet, often when I meet someone new and say I’m a novelist, I get this silly question: “Have you written anything important that I’ve read?” On a tour bus in Hawaii last February, I answered that question with—“Yes, War and Peace!” That felt good. Of course, no one mentioned that I didn’t look like a dead Russian aristocrat, which just goes to show no one on the bus had read the book, or perhaps hadn’t even heard of it. When I got that silly question from my new neighbor last week, I cocked my head and asked my usual, “How would I know that?” She answered with a sly smile, “You know what I mean.” Yes, unfortunately, I do. My name isn’t J.K. Rowling or Nora Roberts or Scott Pratt. So if “important” book translates to “best seller” for you, I haven’t written anything you’ve read.

3d-contest-smartsBut hang on, I have two new books coming soon, Contest Smarts: Writing Contest Winning Strategies, a non-fiction how-to, and a fun women’s fable entitled Bitten: Confessions of a Menopausal Vampire. 3d-bitten-frontWith these two sure best-sellers, maybe I’ll have a new answer for that silly question, “Have you written anything important that I’ve read?” Or I could just keep on with a superior quizzical look and “How would I know that?” comeback because it’s so much darn fun.

Heigh ho! Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmelinda

Disaster or Beautiful–It’s Perspective

king-street-flood-10-16-eunaWe lived in D.C.for five years and whenever there was a storm rolling up the coast, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, a couple of miles south of us, would get flooded by the Potomac River. Though we lived on the river by DCA airport, we weren’t ever affected by flooding. Of course, we lived on the 10th floor of a high rise. However, my son and his wife live in Old Town Alexandria–on higher ground, thank goodness. They ventured out to King Street one evening last weekend and waded to dinner. My daughter-in-law took and enhanced this beautiful photo of the flooding. The APP effects make the disaster look magical, almost.

Book Promotion on Social Media Whoas

I’m always hatching fabulous ideas, usually about how a group of like-minded individuals can accomplish, create, achieve so much more together than individually. Rocking that theme, I decided that writers I’ve met here in Tucson could extend their promotional reach by cooperatively promoting each others’ work. I believe now is the best time in history for an author with stories to tell and sell directly to the readers. Reaching readers via the internet and social media seems to be the best or debatably the easiest place to connect with readers who’ll buy your book. Or so social media would have us believe.

Promoting a book used to be a matter of bookmarks, book signings and developing a mailing list for communicating with readers. Now there seem to be endless online promotional options singing a siren song of “You Can, and Really Should, Do It All”. If you believe that, the learning curve and time sink can be overwhelming and demoralizing. Our Promotional CoOp has sixteen members with varying social media/internet skills. They’re eager to expand their skills while they figure out how much promoting they can and want to do.

I’ve just put up a MelindaRuckerHaynesBooks page on FaceBook. Sounded easy enough, but people couldn’t access the page. I spent way too much time developing the content and then trying to wring out the Settings to publish. Finally got that accomplished–by myself, which put me behind on production of my Contest Smarts book. Contest SmartsAnd during this busy time, the Contest Smarts website has gone live and I’m working on helpful and inspiring content. Seemed important to get a Twitter account for Contest Smarts and figuring that out has been growth-promoting. And put me further behind on book production. I still haven’t completed my Author’s Page on Amazon.com, but I’m working on it. Promoting is always time away from writing, from book production.

Internet and social media book promoting often may be the way of whoa, as in, “Stop, horsey!” as well as the usual meaning of woe, but it’s what we’ve got right now. I continue to say and pray, “There must be a better way!.” And I’ll keep looking or maybe form a cooperative to find it.

Heigh ho! Mmmmmmmmmmmelinda

Mmmmmelinda Talks CONTEST SMARTS

Contest SmartsAfter my CONTEST SMARTS workshop this summer at Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, attendees kept asking me for more tips and strategies for entering writing contests. I came home to Tucson and embarked on twin projects of building a website and creating a how-to book of CONTEST SMARTS: Writing Contest Winning Strategies. The book will be available October 1, 2016 on Amazon.

The website is now live. Check it out for featured writing/literary contests, winning strategies, winners’ interviews, and the infamous Undiscerning Arbiter Award given to the worst/funniest judge’s comments. The next interview is with Darcy Carson, Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest Chairperson 2006 – 2014, who will discuss all things PNWA contest and her own successes entering writing contests.

 

Melinda Rucker Haynes is the sponsor of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2017 Literary Contest Young Adult Category.

 

 

Living in Translation

My darling daughter-in-law called me yesterday on my birthday and followed the Haynes tradition of singing the happy birthday song. She has a lovely voice but is self conscious about her pronunciation. English is not her first language, but a fine second. You know the voices you hear in your head? Probably speaking English, right? She hears Korean and translates to English. Everyone and everything around her speaks English, even my son’s Airedale. However, her Westie, who came with her from Seoul and whose first language is Korean, has rapidly become bilingual. My daughter-in-law speaks beautiful English. I often think of her not just coping here in a foreign language but thriving!

MelindaI was a Spanish literature major. While in university and when I was teaching, I spoke fluent Spanish. When I traveled to Mexico I would even begin thinking in Spanish. But ten years later when I lived in Brasil where they speak Portuguese, I often struggled to communicate in a sort of Portanole–Spanish Portuguese mix. I could stand right next to an Argentinian speaking Spanish to a Brazilian and try to speak Spanish to him as well but he would not understand me. My Spanish was correct, if university level with a bit of a Mexican accent. Hers was Argentinian Spanish. The Brazilian and she communicated. He and I did not. If I had to speak on the phone where I could not see a speaker’s mouth, I had great difficulty understanding what was said. Once, the concierge of our service flat called to tell me something about the phone system in the building. I could not understand him. Next thing I knew he was pounding on the door. I opened it and he roared into the room, picked up the phone, yelling and gesturing about how I should use the phone. I saw his lips. Heard his inflection and got context clues from his gestures. We communicated. I also understood that he thought if I didn’t understand I must be deaf, so he yelled and spoke slowly with big, broad gestures, because I apparently was not only deaf but a bit developmentally delayed.

I get what my daughter-in-law is dealing with in this adventure in foreign living. I understand her concern, her constant vigilance in translating and communicating, being understood and not embarrassing herself or her new family. I’m dedicated to praising the fabulous job she’s doing so that she will be as proud of herself as we are proud of her. Oooooo , if only I could speak Spanish with the fluency that she does English, I would be not only simpatica (Spanish speakers and Brazilians always called me that as I was kind and friendly) I might be writing delicious magic realism like Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, and Isabel Allende. Ah, now there’s a dream worth pursuing. 

Says the Spider to Guest Blogger Suzanne Gunn, “Welcome to my orb!”

Orb WebSummer in Kansas goes through stages. It starts hot and muggy with a few bugs, which is followed by hotter and muggier and “did you see the size of That Mosquito”; and finally it’s damn hot, wring-it-out muggy, Backwoods Off as the perfume de jour and season of the orb spider.

Along with increase in bugs comes an increase in their nemesis, spiders (along with bats and miscellaneous birds, but this is about spiders). Most spiders know their place in the yard. The gorgeous yellow and black garden spiders spin magnificent webs along the border of things, neatly out of the way. Not so the orb. These ladies believe the world is their oyster and happily rig their webs any place they can get an anchor line attached. The webs can be really big, nearly invisible and surprisingly tough – after all it has to withstand struggling insects. We are now at the beginning of the Season of the Orb Spider (mysterious music, please).

So the other evening Skamp, the rat terrier, and I were following the plopping journey of a smallish toad across the yard. I was looking down at the little critter, not up. Oh darn! Walked smack dab, full frontal, forehead to belt into an orb spider web that hadn’t been there an hour before.

I levitated. Yodeled! Flailed mightily and then did my best cheerleader moves midair trying to remove web and find the spider (oh where is the spider!?!?!) and avoid stepping on dog or toad. Eeee! Once grounded on terra firma the spider hunt continued, bending at the waist, shaking out my long hair, alternately hopping, shaking and flailing. It’s the most horrible feeling not to know where the spider went to say nothing about the creepy web. The spider obviously survived because there was another web in the same exact place by the next morning.

If you happen to drive by our place and see the Lady of the Manor out and about waiving a long stick like a demented Hogwarts escapee don’t worry. It’s just the best available spider defense system. It’s low tech and it works. Sweep and swish through thin air and there went another spider web…

Mmmmm’s Western Historical Novel, REMITTANCE, Finalist in PNWA 2016 Literary Contest

The Pacific Northwest Writers Association, PNWA, has sponsored an annual literary contest for over sixty years. There are twelve fiction and nonfiction categories for unpublished work and a separate category for published books. The last few years contest entries have numbered over a 1000. Last summer my experimental Boomer Lit paranormal romance, BITTEN, about a menopausal vampire was a finalist in the romance category.

In the 2016 PNWA Literary Contest I entered a western historical romance novel, REMITTANCE, Book I, a sweeping saga of a Bostonian blue stocking businesswoman running from her past after a Spanish remittance man who flees with her nephew down the dangerous Santa Fe Trail to his noble family’s land grant in New Mexico. I previously entered the first three chapters in Romance Writers of America’s Hearts Through History chapter’s literary contest and the story came second in Best Short Historical. I can’t wait to see how REMITTANCE does at the PNWA Awards banquet on Saturday night, July 30 in Seattle.

Contest SmartsBefore the Awards banquet on Saturday, I’ll be giving a ninety minute workshop, CONTEST SMARTS: Make Writing Contests Work for You, at 5:00-6:30. I’ve been called a contest guru because I’ve won sixteen writing contest awards. (There are editing and website content awards in the list, too.) I have over twenty years experience entering writing contests, developing contests, and judging entries and have learned much that I hope will inspire and help writers make writing contests work for their particular career goals and maybe win some, too!

COMING SOON

CONTEST SMARTS Kindle eBook

September 2016

 

ONEBOOKAZ Book Tour Ends, The Haunting of Josh Weston Now A Kindle Edition

Winning the ONEBOOKAZ 2016 Young Adult eBook award in March 2016 kicked off a marvelous adventure of touring Arizona’s libraries with my young adult novel, The Haunting of Josh Weston.haunting-josh-weston My roadie, Bob, and I started with the Tucson Festival of Books. Seven libraries and hundreds of miles later our tour ended in Chandler, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb. The librarians and their patrons were so much fun, booklovers every one!

ONEBOOKAZ is at an end and my book is the last YA novel winner. There aren’t going to be anymore ONEBOOKAZ contests and awards. It was suggested that I make available paperbacks of my book for tour signings and for book clubs and libraries to order. The ebook edition was available on the ONEBOOKAZ site for Arizonans to read for free during the tour. Now that ONEBOOKAZ is ended and the free online reading no longer available, Sonrisa Multimedia has published an electronic Kindle edition on Amazon.com of The Haunting of Josh Weston

This little Arizona ghost story has been very good to me, and the book’s fans aren’t just limited to my family and friends and other Arizonans. It was nominated for three national awards, prior to winning the ONEBOOKAZ contest. Now with the paperback and Kindle ebook editions available, I’m hearing from teens and from the growing audience of adult readers who enjoy stories about weird families living and learning together, despite the stimulating meddling of a crazy ghost or two.