“No Project Too Weird”

Zinsser-shelfWhat serious writer doesn’t have William Zinsser on his or her bookshelf? On Writing Well and Writing to Learn are both books I return to often.

This morning’s New York Times has a piece by Dan Barry about Zinsser’s transition from writing coach to one who still teaches — by listening. Zinsser, now 90, has glaucoma and can no longer see.

But he’s still teaching and, according to the article, is available “for help with writing problems and stalled editorial projects and memoirs and family history; for singalongs and piano lessons and vocal coaching; for readings and salons and whatever pastimes you may devise that will keep both of us interested and amused.

“I’m eager to hear from you. No project too weird.”

Thank you, Mr. Zinsser, for still being willing to help.

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Copyright — Gone Wrong?

Basic RGBWhether you’re a reader, writer, author, or publisher — this New York Times Op-Ed piece by Scott Turow matters. And if you’re an author, it matters whether your books are bestsellers or self-published e-books.

In fact, it matters even more if you’re the author of e-books.

In the NYT piece, Turow writes:

Last month, the Supreme Court decided to allow the importation and resale of foreign editions of American works, which are often cheaper than domestic editions. Until now, courts have forbidden such activity as a violation of copyright. Not only does this ruling open the gates to a surge in cheap imports, but since they will be sold in a secondary market, authors won’t get royalties.

This may sound like a minor problem; authors already contend with an enormous domestic market for secondhand books. But it is the latest example of how the global electronic marketplace is rapidly depleting authors’ income streams. It seems almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.

Turow is president of the Authors Guild. In December 2012, he gave a speech at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC., in which he said:

New technology often brings conflict over copyright issues, but there is more money at stake than ever before. Google and others have made free use of copyrighted works under the increasingly expansive rubric of fair use—a use in which the corporate entity makes a profit while authors make nothing. 

To read more about it, see this article on the Authors Guild site.

Copyright is one of those topics that can make eyes glaze over. But, to all of us who care about books, copyright — and the wrongs it prevents — matters.

Enough even to bring this blog out of inactivity.

A Lesson in Writing — and in Making Bread

Shredded Wheat BreadI’ve been struggling for several weeks with a piece of writing that exploded onto the page – OK, so it was five, single-spaced, pages. This particularly piece shouldn’t be more than three pages, and even that’s too much to inflict on its intended audience.

After wrestling with it again early this morning, I contemplated throwing the whole damned thing out and starting all over again.

Groan.

Muttering crossly about wasted time and effort, I went outside to feed the horses and came back inside to make bread. The recipe (which follows) uses a mixture of boiling water, shredded wheat, butter, molasses, and salt. Mentally, I was still focused on writing — and inadvertently used 3 tablespoons of salt, not 3 teaspoons.

When I tasted the mixture, it was almost inedible.

Briefly, I considered persevering. Maybe adding the flour would make the bread sort of OK, if just barely? But one of these loaves is a guest offering for a dinner party this evening…

The parallel between writing and making bread wasn’t lost on me. Salt is vital to this recipe, just as details are what bring life and emotion to that piece of writing. But even though all those details are important to me – apparently, I needed the release of writing them — including all of them in this piece will choke my readers.

Fortunately, given that I live in a remote corner of Arizona and the nearest grocery store is a 2.5-hour round trip away, I still had enough ingredients to start a new batch of bread.

The dough, made with the correct shredded wheat mixture, is rising in the sunny east window. I’ve saved the too-salty mixture and will dilute it with a NO-salt version – after next week’s trip for groceries – for later baking.

And I’ve saved the piece of writing for later as well and started a brand-new version – this time with 3 teaspoons of details, not 3 tablespoons.

Here’s the recipe, based roughly on Judith and Evan Jones’  The Book of Bread. (I’ve converted all my bread recipes to three loaves: one to give away, one for the freezer, and one to start the moment it comes out of the oven, hot and delicious…

 Shredded Wheat Bread

(modified from from Judith and Evan Jones’ The Book of Bread)

Makes three 9-inch loaves

  • 3 C           boiling water
  • 2 1/4 C    bite-size shredded wheat biscuits, or 3 of the big biscuits
  • 3 T           yeast
  • 3/4 C       warm water to dissolve the yeast
  • 1/3 C       molasses
  • 3 tsp       coarse salt (or 1.5 tsp table salt) – that’s TEASPOONS! 🙂
  • 4 1/2 T       butter
  • 7-8 C  white flour, preferably unbleached

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the 3/4 C of the warm water.

In a separate bowl, add the boiling water to the shredded wheat. Add the salt, molasses, and butter. Stir until the butter’s melted and the ingredients well mixed.

Add the shredded wheat mixture to the yeast, then add the white flour, cup by cup, until the dough gets stiff.

Turn the dough out onto a floured working surface, and let it rest while you clean out the bowl and grease it. Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary, for about 10 minutes until it’s no longer sticky and feels resilient and smooth.

Place it in the greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place until double in volume—about an hour.

Turn the dough out, punch it down, form into three loaves. Place in greased loaf pans, cover lightly with a towel, let rise again until almost double in volume—about 45-60 minutes.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 350 degrees for about an hour, maybe a little more, depending on your oven. Let loaves cool on racks.

To freeze: Put each loaf in a brown paper lunch bag, then in a plastic bag (produce bags work great). The loaves will keep this way perfectly in the refrigerator as well — for two or more weeks — unless eaten sooner!

Hooked on the Christmas Bird Count

Audubon logoThis past weekend was the 112th National Audubon Christmas Bird Count when tens of thousands of citizen scientists all over the country brave winter conditions to do a census of their local bird population. In my Chiricahua Mountain community of Portal, Arizona, it was the 38th annual count — and no courage was required with sunny skies, no wind, and temperatures in the 60s.

House finchI’m — at best — a rookie birder, but I got to tag along on Reed Peter’s 2-mile territory that extended from his Cave Creek Ranch to Sunny Flats Campground at an elevation of about 5,000′.  We saw a total of 41 species, including house finches, lesser goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, Gambel’s quail, many Mexican jays, along with canyon towhees, two red-naped sapsuckers, and lots of white-crowned sparrows. Most unusual was the arrival of a Scott’s Oriole on the ranch feeder!

Acorn woodpecker

My favorite bird is still the clownish acorn woodpecker — tragically, we arrived too late to rescue one from a passing Cooper’s hawk.

Sunday was the 37th annual Peloncillo count across the state line near Animas, New Mexico, and again I tagged along, this time with Reed Peters, Peg Abbott, of Naturalist Journeys, and a birder named Steve from Santa Fe. Wow — what a magnificent area! Our territory was a chunk of the Dunnegan Ranch, which is part of the 322,000-acre Nature Conservancy Gray Ranch, owned by the Animas Foundation and usually closed to the public. We traversed desert flats and sprawling grasslands, crossed clear flowing streams, scampered through narrow canyons, and crunched across oak/juniper woodlands. We recorded 46 species — and about 40 were ones we didn’t see in the higher elevations during yesterday’s count. Most of all, I learned that sparrows are HARD to identify! We saw hundreds of them, including Bairds, grasshopper, savannah, Brewers, white-crowned, black-throated, chipping, lark, and vespers.

Watching the prairie falcon skim over the grass tops, the roadrunner bask in the early morning sun on top of a juniper, and seeing a cloud of 100 mountain bluebirds descend into a nearby tree were sights I won’t soon forget.

Many thanks to the ever-patient Reed and Peg! I’m definitely hooked and hope to be more knowledgable this time next year when the next Christmas count rolls around…

Big valley and Animas Mtns

Peg Abbott soaks up the view of grasslands stretching across the Gray Ranch toward the snow-capped Animas Mountains.

A First-Time Gathering of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon

FoCCC logoConsidered by many to be the crown jewel of southern Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains, Cave Creek Canyon now has a new friend — or, at last count, nearly 100 of them.

The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (FoCCC) mission is

To inspire appreciation and understanding of the beauty, biodiversity and legacy of
Cave Creek Canyon.

To accomplish that goal, a year ago a small steering group began dealing with IRS paperwork and legalese in order to become an official 503(c) (3) Friends group. They also worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service employees of Coronado National Forest to find the best way for FoCCC volunteers to help support the USFS work and mission in Southeast Arizona.

Since getting established in September, the group has already
• set up a website and a Facebook page,
• teamed the Forest Service with local volunteers to establish benches in South Fork, clear VIsta Point, and maintain the Cave Creek Nature Trail,
• co-hosted a Portal-based Celtic Music weekend, and
• sponsored an educational forum with the Arizona Game and Fish Dept. to help landowners learn how to cope with the black bears in town following the Horseshoe 2 fire.

Hosted by the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, N.M., forty-seven enthusiastic residents attended FoCCC’s first annual membership meeting, bringing offers to volunteer, along with discussion of many potential projects, including:
• adding an information kiosk at the opening of the canyon,
• replacing signs identifying some of the more noteworthy rock formations,
• photo-monitoring of regeneration after the fire that burned 230,000 acres,
• compiling a Biota Bibliographic project that would be a repository of links to scientific papers on the region,
• establishing an annual Bat Watch event, and
• providing hosts for the Visitor Center in order to keep it open longer.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way the meeting went,” said Reed Peters, FoCCC president. “The community certainly showed that Friends is something they care about and want to be involved in.”

Larry Pratt, Developed Recreation Project Manager for the Coronado, agreed. “I don’t live in this canyon, but my wife and I have been coming here for years,” he said after the meeting. “I’m very excited to see the formation of this Friends group and look forward to working with the members and seeing it succeed.”

For more information on membership, donations, or volunteer opportunities, check out the FoCCC website and Facebook page.

[DISCLOSURE: I’m on the Board of Directors.]

In love … with an octopus??

Photo by Brandon Cole

Photo by Brandon Cole

I confess. I’ve always been a lover of cephalopods – and not just for dinner.

In “Deep Intellect: Inside the Mind of an Octopus,” published in the Nov/Dec issue of Orion magazine, Sy Montgomery has written a stunning piece of literary journalism. By meeting Athena, a 5-foot, 40-pound Pacific octopus, we see these creatures’ personalities, opinions, intelligence, ability to “see” with their skin, and even their need to play.

Not surprisingly, the article has leapt to the top of Orion magazine’s most-read list. Click here to see why. You can also download a conversation with the author here in which she explains more about how writing this story affected her.

A wonderful read — thank you, Sy Montgomery and Orion!

Even if it does mean I may never eat octopus again.

Woooo-HOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Steam Locomotive No. 844

Steam Locomotive No. 844 passes through Steins, N.M.

It’s not often that I’ll rise before dawn and brave temperatures in the 30s with a howling wind … for a machine.

But what a machine! Steam Locomotive Engine No. 844 flew past the ghost town of Steins, N. M. at 8:15 this morning, welcomed by two dozen cold but enthusiastically waving train fans. The Union Pacific Heritage train was on its way to its first Arizona stop in Willcox and will arrive in Tucson for a display day on Friday. The New Mexico/Arizona Centennial Tour started in Cheyenne, Wyo., will last 32 days, and go through nine states.

No. 844 was the last steam locomotive built for United Pacific Railroad and was saved from being scrapped in 1960 to be held for special service.

And special it was – it’s been nearly 35 years since the U.S. Bicentennial when a steam locomotive last passed through the state.

To read more about it and to see an interactive map, check out the United Pacific website – from the warmth of your computer!