Wildfires in Northern California

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Scenes from Arson Instigated Fire in Lake County

Valley Fire, September 2015

Intending to begin my fourth novel at Calistoga’s famed dirt racing oval I was instead shocked to find the fairgrounds transformed into a shelter for the evacuees of the deadly and destructive Valley Fire of Lake County. The famed racetrack where the motorcycle championship riders would have been competing was their next to last stop on their way to the season ending Las Vegas finale. Arson and climate change induced drought forever cancelled those races and altered the trajectory of my plotting of Women of the Oak Savannahs. Now the destructive and deadly fires of 2017, in part the result of the same out of control development, chronic water shortages  and drought stricken arid landscape I have been writing about have vaulted my fictitious characters from the page and have been brought to life as gut-wrenching  non-fiction fact. I didn’t want to write about climate change. I didn’t want to write about overdevelopment. I had the story handed to me by stubborn politics, rapacious real estate developers and a handful of committed environmental activists standing up trying to sound the alarm. Here is the opening to my all but complete still in editing fourth novel…

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Valley Fire, Lake County

September 19, 2015

High aloft the aerialist gripped the climbing rope. Beyond a brownish orange sun went lost in a smoke filled sky. Helicopters, Super-Huey’s thump-thump-thumped eastward to the front. In the tumult of the still out of control wildfire the aerialist startled the audience with a swift descent back to the ground. The rhinestone bejeweled woman slipped one foot then the other into her glittering silver clogs. Each knee-high-stride was accent, twirling her palms face up, she tickled the ovation with her fingertips. The incessant droning of the Grumman Air-tankers crisscrossing the sky mixed with the audience’s anxious murmurs. Within the respite of the struggle to survive a showgirl’s smile simmered across her lips. The heavy oppression of the air reeking of acrid smoke pressed a sorrowful reality down upon the fairground. Jo assumed a dancer’s first position, her concentration slipping away, mind wandering, locking eyes with the motorcycle racer for one part of one instant, then in the next breath the performing artist vanished out of the light away into the night.

“You want to unfasten me?” Jo was standing backstage on the other side of a pickup truck. She was peeling her full figure out of her costume. By design the garment fit skintight. Piper tugging the flesh colored fabric together unlatched the hooks to the eyes along the seam running down her back.

“I thought the Deputy Sheriff was going to poke us with his night stick.” Jo said.

“He’s just gawking. It’s always something, our mascara, false eyelashes, our derrières.” Piper wiggled hers.

“Have you noticed how it is that white girls’ lives matter?”

“All lives matter.”

“The fair manager notified the Sheriff’s Department. She told them we were setting up for a show.” Jo rolled her eyes.

“They haven’t started shooting showgirls as far as I know.”

“Give the deputies a chance. We haven’t resisted arrest yet.”

“This is the wine country, we’re in Calistoga. Nothing but mud baths and chardonnay as far as an eye can see…”

“How about all those stretch limos full of binge drinkers? That’s what I want to wake up to, a five hundred dollar hangover.” Jo laughed. “That’s a headache and a pain in the ass wrapped up into one fan-fucking-tastic butt-ugly credit card bill.”

Children on tenterhooks, eight of them, old enough to play together so long as they didn’t stray too far from their parents’ watchful eyes, had come around from where they sat at the front of the audience to peek.

“They are such perfect pests.” Jo smiling at her admirers.

“They just want to grow up and be like you and me,” Piper said.

Jo wrapped her fingers around one wrist and then the other pumping her hand. She grimaced, “I’m glad we came out.” She scanned the dusk sky, “This has to be the hardest thing, performing for a fairground filled to the brim with heartbreak.”

Piper her understudy was elvish, shorter, blanketed with a pearl white skin, blue eyed, blonde hair said, “The audience had a chance to forget their problems, even if it was only for tonight. Nothing’s wrong with that. Life has to go on.”

Jo scrunched her nose and tilted her head grinning at her new fans. She wagged her finger like she was tickling the overcurious kids. They scattered giggling.

 

 

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Women of the Oak Savannahs Opener

Burned Out Four

Scene from remains of the Valley Fire, Lake County, California

September 16, 2015 Napa Valley

High aloft the aerialist gripped the climbing rope. Beyond a brownish orange sun went lost in a smoke filled sky. Helicopters, Super-Huey’s thump-thump-thumped eastward to the front. In the tumult of the still out of control wildfire the aerialist startled the audience with a swift descent back to the ground. The rhinestone bejeweled woman slipped one foot then the other into her glittering silver clogs. Each knee-high-stride was accent, twirling her palms face up, she tickled the ovation with her fingertips. The incessant droning of the Grumman Air-tankers crisscrossing the sky mixed with the audience’s anxious murmurs. Within the respite of the struggle to survive a showgirl’s smile simmered across her lips. The heavy oppression of the air reeking of acrid smoke pressed a sorrowful reality down upon the fairground. Jo assumed a dancer’s first position, her concentration slipping away, mind wandering, locking eyes with the motorcycle racer for one part of one instant, then in the next breath the performing artist vanished out of the light away into the night.

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Long fiction takes like what seems forever. I plotted for much of a year and began composing my fourth novel on November 1, 2015. You are looking at 171 of 72,000 words. My editor and I are nearing the end of our fixing the manuscript. Fatigue sets in during the late editing process. I have been back to the first paragraph on many days all along the last seventeen months. The opener has been through hundreds if not thousands of rewrites. We’ll see if it stands up and carries the day, the previous version measuring 123 words.  I had sought to keep the paragraph compact, but the shorter opener lacked the visceral imagery to do with the fire.  I like this version. If you wonder whether you have what it takes to write long fiction you might ask whether you have the constancy required to read, reread and revise your prose until they are all arranged to the best that you can stand to do.

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Against the Grain

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The Next Steps

The current novel I am drafting is set in Napa County. Climate change, inequality and the health of of both the people and environment is under stress. Studying groundwater levels, fish extinction events, the alarming increase of childhood cancer rates (the highest in any county in California) has been painful to acknowledge. There has been a loss of innocence in my life. County officials in lockstep with the biggest agricultural corporations in the valley dictate what does and doesn’t happen here. The climate is changing, the available water has all been claimed. It is a jewel of a county and California’s smallest. It has grown into a world class international tourist destination. Both businesses and visitors clamor to come here and get a piece of the action. A wide array of community organizations are struggling to slow the rapid rate of growth. We’ll need more soul searching to bridle the billion dollar corporations that find sustainability issues irrelevant to their business plans. The struggle to thwart the rich and powerful from reining down ruin upon this world class destination falls upon the ordinary citizens who live here. Tough stuff… now with the changes in Washington DC the mood of the country seems to have turned against any further supervision or regulation of this great treasure the gods have handed to us. So, yes, I am the loyal opposition. Good ideas I’ll cooperate with and bad ideas I’ll resist. This is where we find out if we can save the world…

Crushing Fame Games

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Scene from 2015 Valley Fire

Lake County, California

Plenty busy now and well along on my fourth novel. In this scene I am dealing with how money in politics is influencing the winegrowing region of Napa County.  The billionaires in the region have an outsized influence over the valley. Preserving this wine growing wonder of the world is in harms way. Too much money and too few citizens appreciate the pressure California’s smallest county is under.

“Alex Dominguez is the dude. County Board of Supervisor. I read on the website that he describes himself as a moderate, friendly to business Democrat.” Tyler starts filling out the check. “One man’s business friendly Democrat could look an awful lot like a bend over backwards do anything you want Republican. Alex needs to understand that the business friendly Democrats up here in Soda Canyon have a different point of view than those business friendly Democrats down on the valley floor.”

“I’m not here to talk policy, make any promises. That’s what Alex does. He makes the promises.”

“A broken campaign promise will get my dads Texas temper in a tantrum. He is the epitome of what you call a business friendly valley floor Democrat.”

“You can give to the campaign if you and your group want. But, Alex can’t make any specific promises.”

“My daddy, the valley dude, he told me while he was still bouncing me off his knee if you want good representation you have to be wiling to help get that person into office, that’s how politics in this country is practiced.”  He tore the check out of the register. “We got a beekeeper up here worried about maintaining the wild forage her honeybees depend on. Got a family with relatives from Flint, Michigan concerned about vineyards contaminating our watershed. We’re worried about climate change, spike in childhood cancer rates.” Tyler handed over the check. “We are concerned about the having some big shot, private equity operators coming up here on the east side and smooth talking the supervisors into cutting down what’s left of our wild oak woodlands.”

“This is for twenty thousand dollars.” The man said.

Tyler, Ronnie and Jessica laughed, “There’s a lot of money in honey.”

“There are lots of folks who don’t want anymore trees cut down.” Jessica said.

Tyler started walking the staff member off his property. Put his arm around his shoulders to confide privately, “I’d like to hear Alex take a position on what he’s going to do before the election. Otherwise we might have to do the same thing he trying to do and play both sides of the isle.”

“I’ll let Alex know.”

“I finally feel like we are communicating.”