Composing The Westerns During my Suburban Phase, I earned a few extra dollars here and there, beyond the few extra dollars from time to time through contract technical engineering writing, by selling my hand-made quilts. One sales venue (which was scarcely a platform but it was a table!) was the Christmas Crafts Fair at the Sacramento District of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Back then, you could still call the event “Christmas,” before the Corps of Engineers became the Corpse of Environmentalists. I sat there, at the folding cafeteria table, with my stack of Polyfil-batting quilts (the cotton batting was too expensive at the time for a profitable sale). I was engrossed in reading a Western by Louis L'Amour. One of my former-colleagues and always-friend was a “Mr. O”. He was quite the expert instrumentation specialist (his favorite trouble detection device was the piezometer). Mr. O came sauntering by the long cafeteria table. He slowly peered at me as I sat behind the stack of patchwork lap quilts. He then stared at me staring into the paperback book, and he quipped: “I would think you’d be reading French.” “Oh, I read that too. I’m taking a break from it.” Mr. O thoughtfully nodded. I always kept him busy, trying to detect trouble within my bored but busy cranium.
I suppose that timing — of taking a break from the French — will replay itself. Once I am finished with composing L’AUBE, I will likely piece together, almost like a patchwork quilt, THE SILENT HEART, SILVER DAGGER, and then SHADOW, the medical drama set in the West that is less Western than the other two novels. My digital files are becoming rather sizable; and the Western research books are giving me sizable, if not weighty, stares from their storage bin in my Writer’s Room. Typically, I do my most productive, prolific and even profound writing when I am in the midst of moving. My family can attest to the number of times “we” have had to move furniture within rooms or from room to room to satisfy my wanderlust needed for optimal writing. With the Westerns, however, The Plan is for the Milligan Residence to change to a completely different house! Plans, photographs, pictures, procedures, wishful thinking and the earliest stages of blueprints for that project are presently underway. Building a new house alongside the Westerns was not my plan, but I do not always work true to plan. As one engineer advised me when I typed his plans and specs: “Goals in concrete, plans in sand.” I have, at times, had to recast those goals in better concrete (one cannot always have exposed aggregate); but the idea is roughly the same. A writer must at times revise her objectives to ideally work with conditions at hand! Mr. O was a California native, complete with the culture of Sonoma Valley. “As God is my witness,” he vowed in an imitation of my voice, “I will never have to move again.” He likely knew the irony of that statement. This Instrumentation Specialist helped my “spousal unit” and my young children move from my spanking brand new gilded cage in the Roseville suburbs to this “vintage” house, located on God’s little acre in Newcastle. I led the way in my teal green Ford Explorer. Mr. O dutifully drove behind me in his pickup truck, hauling more than his share of stacked boxes. As I drove up the main drag through this little town, I accidentally signaled to turn left, onto the wrong street, a lane that was, in essence, a series of hovels.
Oops. “Very funny,” Mr. O later opined. I explained it was accidental, but my most comical moments usually are! After moving his quota of boxes into the house, Mr. Piezometer told me, “Debra, do not buy any more books.” I felt, and still feel, no pressure to commit to that command! A major reason why I need a larger domicile is to house the Books — both for the reading and the writing of them! On one point, Mr. O and I fully concurred: Never build a dam near a winery. The Sagging Continues . . . I shall have to work that warning into one of the Westerns.
Mr. O, the Initial Fill Report for Little Dell Dam, and the writing of NORTHSTAR are all fondly inter-linked in my mind. I worked on a Satellite laptop at the time, and I very often felt in orbit, complete with primary-color-coded diskettes. Mr. O wondered aloud at one point if I had gone “screaming, out into the night,” during my work on this document. I came pretty close to it, but I never fully succumbed to the claustrophobic feeling from the reservoir filling while I was writing and editing this report on sharp deadline. Mr. O and I shared many quips, and quotes, and quiet moments of laughter, creating the kind of camaraderie that I tried to capture among the resisters in THE DAWN. If only that damn dam had been built in the south of France . . .