GUEST: Author Carolyn J. Rose

Today’s post is by a unique guest, author and teacher Carolyn J. Rose. 

Rose shares her thoughts on growing up in the Catskill Mountains and how those memories can create a strong setting. Rose earned an honored position on the list of Celebrities Who’ve met ME! when I took both her Novel Writing Boot Camp classes. From that experience blossomed a loyal critique group that has produced two Pacific Northwest Writers Association winners–attesting to her  skill as a writing coach.

Carolyn’ J. Rose is the author of several books, most recently Hemlock Lake available in hardback or Kindle.  Here’s Carolyn . . .

In Washington, where I live now, the term I hear is “forest.” But when I grew up in the Catskill Mountains, the leafy realm that began at a dozen yards from our house was always called “the woods.

Trees dug in their toes at the edge of a scabby lawn sprouting through
rocky soil scraped into a semblance of level by a tractor blade. This was no spongy, springy, emerald green lawn. This was a pale lawn of ruggedly individualistic blades of grass, roots corkscrewed in among pebbles and stones, clinging to scant, glacier-scoured soil.

Each spring we reclaimed the edges of it from an advancing army of sumac, oak, and birch, from hemlock, pine, and cedar. We hacked away at brush and vines, lugging what we dropped to piles that would be set alight in the dark of winter.

The summer woods seemed impenetrable, the winter woods empty, bleak, and barren.

As a child, one of the biggest treats was a Sunday afternoon walk with my father. It was a pursuit of adventure, of wildness—it was piquant sauce for the predictability of the Sunday dinner of ham or roast, that Sunday sense of waiting for things to begin again with Monday’s dawn.

My father would identify tracks and droppings—deer, bear, raccoon, skunk. He’d name trees and point out nests aloft.

I’d try to walk silently, but winter winds had scattered twigs and branches that snapped beneath my shoes and slabs of shale slid underfoot when we climbed the ridges.

I became fearful when we left the landmarks I knew and could identify, worried we wouldn’t find our way back to the dinner simmering in that cast-iron kettle. But I was always confident that if I stayed by his side, we would return safely. After all, these were the woods he had roamed in childhood and if he’d found his way home as a child, he could surely do the same as an adult.

And this was no dense green-black forest of Douglas fir—no wall of forest, shadows, and night. This was a woods where sun spangled through the leaves of the hardwoods. This was a woods of saplings and bright autumn tints, of long, stark shadows cast by a weak winter sun. This was a woods where stone walls intersected like lines of longitude and latitude. Even humped under winter’s snow they provided a means of navigation.

Looking back, I realize how “tame” and “civilized” those woods were. And yet, they were mysterious, filled with unanswered questions: Who had left that sickle blade hanging in the crotch of a sapling and when had the tree grown around it? Who had left an ax leaning against a spur of stone wall and when had the handle rotted away? Whose initials were those scraped into lichen-scarred stone, carved into the puckered bark of a tree? Where had these people gone and when and why?

As I wrote Hemlock Lake, I often imagined myself back in the Catskill Mountains, back in those woods and I created mysteries of my own—a man who roamed the ridges seeking his lost self, ghosts, a man bent on vengeance, a killer. Hemlock Lake deals with universal themes—betrayal, revenge, love, loss, and redemption—but my memories of those woods make the story unique.

Editor: Thank you Carolyn for continuing to share yourself with your writing students and the reading community.

Listen to an interview of Carolyn J. Rose as she speaks about writing Hemlock Lake on The Author Show.

Purchase Hemlock Lake on Kindle here.

Read an interview of Carolyn J. Rose. It can be read in three parts:

Carolyn J. Rose also founded the Vancouver Writers Mixer with Mel Sanders of Cover to Cover Books.


Family vacation, borders and flying suitcases

Family trips evoke horror ridden memories or gut wrenching cackles. During the trip to the homestead in Idaho a suitcase got left on the top of the car. The wind blew it off. We stopped to pick it up. Inside was a clock which, packed by my overly cautious uncle, suffered nary a scratch. He’d bought it during the trip and was flying home and had packed it to withstand airport handling.

The clock survived the flight off the car and the flight home.

My daughter’s memories include seeing all the license plates, falling asleep listening to a book on tape and not minding missing any of it as the nap made the travel time pass quickly. My dad’s vacation memories center around history and being in the middle of something exciting, for example, where fur traders traversed from Taos, Mexico to Yellowstone, or having sensory overload at places like Cabella’s.

My vacation memories usually center on leaving work with a clean desk—should someone need to find something in my absence the possibilities increase with each item I file or discard. Then there’s the thrill of finally being on the road and maybe driving fast with a radar detector.

Other family members might complain our hunger clocks are not in the same time zone, of restrooms too low or too tiny, of missing the correct turn-off, and keeping expenses straight so everyone pays their part.

I gaze out the car window and admire green velvet fields. I watch the breath of the wind blow across them and change their hue. I take in green and tan corn stalks stretching behind wood post fences, farmhouses, silos, irrigation wing spans, the rare red-roof barn, a gentle border of trees signaling a creek, a white steeple church, wind turbines, mile long trains that parallel us, blue sky sparsely peppered with dark clouds or glowing with white billows.

We drive.

We cross state boundaries and face personal ones. These borders of our soul help define who we are, what we are for or against, and what we want and do not want. And sometimes we find ourselves not strapped on, wheeling precariously across the roof of the car, the next bump and we disappear. We may pray someone notices, or we may pray they drive on without us.

If family neglect left you on top of the car, did you fly off and survive, or crack with a hurt too big to repair?


How does a book start?

Start here.

End there.

I closed the front door and started my walk. I needed fresh air and a stretch to clear my thoughts. I believed I walked alone. I was mistaken.

I arrived at the National Historic Reserve and discovered a young girl paced with me. Her emotions flared and she fought for control. She had adopted a steady, proud pace and walked boldly into her future, into a family she didn’t know, toward a man she didn’t love.

Her travel companions had tried to slow her pace and had said, “We don’t need to go fast, we need to go far.” Was it that they could not keep up, or something else that made them want to linger in the trail? I paused, sent my questions out and waited with my dream catcher.

Images flickered, focused and spun away.

I allowed my eyes to wander over the reserve. I saw an Indian tribe watch the young girl come down the path to their village. Tools dropped as the men watched her approach, women halted and stared, small children ran circles around her, tugged on her clothes and made fun of her dress. It was foreign and trail worn. She stopped and let them tug. When their teasing brought no response from her they disappeared.

She had fortitude, smarts and survival skills.

As I walked I heard her inner thoughts, her need to grasp what she believed belonged to her and the scheme she crafted to cheat the person who had cheated her father.

Then a brother cheated a cousin, and a man who doesn’t love her, but wants her because she is smart, rejects the woman he was destined to marry. It rips the family apart.

And that is how a book starts.

It is already there. It exists and waits for writers to peel away the pieces and work to get the broken shards to make sense. The difficulty for this story is that it occurred in the past. Only the writer’s pen exists today. The context, the scenes, the music must be drawn from history and I struggle.

In order to move my stymied efforts forward, I took another trail that led to the Cathlapotle Plankhouse in Ridgefield, Washington. I spoke with two Chinook men. They had no context to understand my plight or need to ask question after question in search of seeing the house of this young girl with clarity, or of sharing the voices of the family.

The Chinook have had visitors before. Television shows that take enough footage and cut and cut and redraw until what they produce is so romanticized it is unrecognizable as a representation of their tribe.

Who am I to tell this story?

I am not sure. But the pen has been passed and a Native American family waits to be heard.

Whose story is waiting for you?


Blue Lily, imagination and fragments of family we all miss

I’m writing at the moment. Sunk deep into a story. It occupies my thoughts when I wake and whispers to me in sleep. I have the idea mapped out in my mind and anxiously look forward to each moment in front of the computer.  But in-between the imagination and fingertips is another universe, and as I get to the end of each chapter I realize nothing is exactly as I’d envisioned it.

The story takes on a life of its own and I am merely a guest on it’s journey.

I wonder how I can assert so little control.

I wonder why I don’t know what will happen until it taps itself out on the white screen.

I wonder who is really writing the story.

My current project is named, Blue Lily, a nod at my great grandmother who went by the nickname Lily and whose hair was so black it was blue in the sparkling sunlight. Her given name was Carol, like mine, but more. She was Carolyn.

I feel simple and small beside her memory. She was adored by her granddaughter, my mother. And two lifetimes after her Lily’s death my mother can still cry. “You never get over missing family,” she explains and I know exactly what she means.

But I wonder if I am speaking as me or as Blue Lily.

Who are you missing?


My birthday party is a social media HIT!

Carol’s Save a Life Birthday Party is a TOP FINALIST for a SoMe Award. (Pacific Northwest Social Media Award).

Every two minutes someone in Western Washington needs a blood transfusion. Sean Debutts, Social Media Coordinator at Puget Sound Blood Center, sent a direct message via Twitter to @TheFirstCarol to ask if she would spearhead a blood drive and help meet that need. The First Carol looked at her watch, realized no new adventure lay on the horizon and quickly said, “Sure!”

She dove into a complete social media campaign and results are in, the party was a hit and it’s a top finalist for the Pacific Northwest Social Media Awards in The Scrappy & Engaged Award category.

The judges were, “A crew of social media enthusiasts in Texas and beyond,” reports Sean Lowery, Executive Director of the InnoTech Conference which is spotlighting the awards.

“Social media is very personal and this campaign struck a chord for me,” says The First Carol. “I have an innate curiosity to see if I can drive people out from behind their computers to share a cup of coffee and many will, but this project asked them to extend past surface conversation and participate in a needle-in-the-arm way.”

The Puget Sound Blood Center maintains eleven donation centers in Washington and continues to benefit from her efforts. “For an hour the SlideShare I created to help explain the campaign to the judges was Hot on Twitter,” notes Carol. “It’s all these little wins that makes diving into social media fun.” The slide share, Carol’s Save A Life Birthday Party, continues to be featured on SlideShare’s Health and Medicine category.

Sean Debutts, the initiator of the direct message that launched Carols’s party says, “Carol deserves the honor after all the hard work she put into her drive and all the visibility she gave the concept.”

What’s next on the adventure agenda for The First Carol? “The hardest part now,” she muses, “Is explaining what a social media award is to my parents.”

Social media is an all encompassing term for the mixing of technology and social interaction to add value to the community. The SoMe Awards honor the best social media projects, programs and campaigns in the Pacific Northwest. Winners will be announced after the InnoTech Conference in Portland, Oregon, a business and technology conference sponsored by top brands IBM, Microsoft, Integra Telecom, and others.

Registration is $20 and includes two drinks and dessert at the prestigious Multnomah Athletic Club, 1849 SW Salmon Street, Portland, Oregon 97205 on Thursday, May 7, 2010 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

Event registrations are accepted online:

“If you missed the birthday party, it’s a great excuse to attend the awards party,” says The First Carol. “It’s a chance to meet me and you might get included in a future blog post.”

Are you coming?

More information about the awards can be found on the SoMe website:


She pulled out the needle, I pushed it away

The gal who greeted me pulled out the needle and thrust it my way. I pushed it aside. I insisted on a gun and a bucket. I was ready to bleed.

The receptionist at the SW Washington Blood Center chuckled and explained she was the person who collected information not blood. She held out a clipboard along with that… pesky needle.

I examined it more closely. I noted it was a pen. I might have been nervous.

I reviewed the educational materials and worked my way through the official blood donation questionnaire. The receptionist and I had a brief exchange over the baby aspirin I’d taken two days prior. It fell within the 48 hour range and needed to be noted. I colored in the round circle over the grayed out ‘Y’ and hoped it didn’t disqualify me from participating in my own birthday blood drive.

The receptionist handed me off to the phlebotomist who hauled me into an interview room. She scrutinized my answers. She asked three more questions and noted my responses on the form. Satisfied, she pulled out her gear and I felt the first prick. I don’t remember much after that… until I started to breathe again.

When I lifted my head off the table she grinned and presented me with my first birthday present. Nothing fancy, not really expensive, but something I could really, really use: a band-aid.

Custom. Flesh colored. Nice.

She continued to smile and escorted me to the donation area. I seemed to be sort of a celebrity (my reputation had preceded me), they had decked out the center with balloons and general party paraphernalia including a lovely cake, and the big bosses shifted out of their offices to get a good glimpse of me. They cheered me on as I approached my donor destiny.

I slipped into the thick, cushioned recliner and rolled my neck and shoulders trying to get comfortable. Something clicked and a voice buzzed in my left ear. The pheblotomist handed me a remote control and waved at the television hanging from the ceiling, noting I had my very own set and could watch whatever I wanted.

I never watch TV anymore (I write) and had no idea what to do except flip through channel after channel. When the screen flickered to black and white I knew I’d landed at the right spot. Perry Mason entered the frame and the courtcase began.

My white-coated escort settled at my side and scrubbed at my inner elbow. I turned away. I steeled myself. I stifled a cry. When I turned back I realized she hadn’t stuck me with anything and praised myself on my wonderful imagination.

At that point, I had to keep a close eye on her handiwork if only to save myself from embarrassment. The last thing I wanted was for them to call the birthday girl ‘the big baby’ before anything was accomplished. I barely flinched when things got set in place. Seriously.

I turned the TV volume down low and focused on pumping the hard rubber ball and fulfilling my birthday mission to save a life.

Squeeze, relax, squeeze, relax.

Seven minutes later I had filled my quota and we admired the nice pint my efforts provided.

This is when the party started.

We ripped the plastic cover off the Safeway cake, sliced up polite-sized pieces, and bit into chocolate cake embedded with chocolate pudding. The receptionist fired up the espresso machine and plunked a steaming, hot cup of coffee in front of me and waited for me to pass out.

I stayed upright.

After all, one doesn’t have just one piece of cake on the birthday you donate blood.

Should you find yourself in the position to be a donor I highly recommend it. Although my fiction account would have you believe otherwise, the pain is nominal. The results of your gift, however, are phenomenal.

People often think that blood transfusions are only used for trauma and accident victims. In fact, blood transfusions are frequently used for cancer patients, blood & immune system diseases, organ transplantation, surgery, burn patients, and heart & blood vessel diseases. There is no substitute for blood and no artificial blood product. There is no substitute for you.

EACH DAY our community needs 900 people to donate blood. Thank you everyone who participated. Your gift means a family stays intact, a baby breathes, a mom smiles, a dad gets to hug his kid.

And we get to eat chocolate cake.

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