Most of my year has been tied up with Chickenshit. Writing it, editing it, rethinking plot points, re-editing, promoting it, vending it, doing my second public reading, and promoting the series even more. All the while, I was checking out KDP for sales progress, comparing sales of each book with the prior one, trying to analyze page read trends, and scanning endless articles and posts for hints on getting a spike in sales. Essentially, I was driving myself crazy trying to get my series out there so it could find its readership, even as I was writing the final volumes and working on other projects. Such is the life of an indie author who would like to eventually support herself through her love of writing, rather than through devoting hours and days per week to a corporation so that bills can be paid and happiness bought occasionally.
I truly love the characters in the stories I write, and I find it hard to say goodbye. The mind wonders what impact Billie’s family will have on her budding relationship with Jodie. And will Benj ever realize his ever-evolving dream of owning land, will Hannah ever make a successful play for him, and what exactly is going on between him, Tonya, and Chris? Will Sheila get better and come back to Milepost? And are Frankie and Elliot doing on their travels? Billie and Jodie may not be done with me just yet, even though I have a lot of other projects in the works.
I am in the process of writing another stand alone novel with the characters from my first novel, Lookout Butte. Alex and Kat are two young women who are navigating their way through their first long term relationship and figuring their careers out as they go: Alex as a Clinical Social Worker and Kat as recovering bartender now in school to become a physical therapist. Alex’s parents are real, fragile and flawed, to her now in a way they never were before. And, just as Kat is basking in her family’s acceptance, her mother shows back up to deal out her share of judgment and narcissism and push Kat to her limits of understanding. The working title is Whippoorwill Springs, and I hope to have it on pre-sale for the fall.
Also, I have begun a children’s book series, Sweet Peeps and Sookie. It’s about a little chick and dachshund who are pushed out by their peers because they are different. Sweet Peeps is a girl chick who is bullied because she crows instead of clucks, and Sookie has been left on Farmer Sam’s doorstep and, between yapping incessantly and not being able to keep up, is failing at making friends with his only companion, The Big Dog. Eventually, Sweet Peeps and Sookie find their way to each other and a true friendship. The second book, Sweet Peeps and Sookie Meet George, will be out within the next few weeks.
On a personal note, my family and I have weathered more than a few crises this year – physical, psychological, and mechanical – and have come out the other side stronger (at least I hope so). Although some of the problems remain clear and present struggles, I am optimistic our concerns will be addressed and managed, if not conquered, over the next year.
I wish all my readers (and non-readers, too) the best in the upcoming year. Perhaps this is the year the ice breaks and all the flotsam and jetsam comes barrelling down the stream and out to the ocean to clear a pathway for creativity, cobwebs are cleared, and a healing sunlight reaches those dark places we’ve had to cover and protect.
Cue up the Vivaldi up and hang on for any glimpses of Spring, real or metaphorical.
For weeks I have been preoccupied with first completing and publishing Volume 3 and now completing Volume 4 of the Chickenshit Series, due out October 1st. In between writing sessions, there have been farm chores, feed runs, hospital and doctor’s office trips, and a couple of festivals where I had a booth to run. Not being much of a multi-tasker, my blog went to the wayside.
Starting the first week of October, I will be back at it in full force. I have a surprise collaborative project those of you who have young children will enjoy, plus updates on my next work in progress. With the final book in the Chickenshit Series pending release, I feel like I should throw a birthday party or shower or something. Maybe not a shower, though.
Last week, I did an interview with Chris Hollaway, for his blog, Sleeping Wyvvern. Chris is an amazing sci-fi/fantasy writer, and we have had many conversations on many of the aspects of writing – creativity, methods, tech, marketing, and promotion. Chris is someone I could talk with for hours about dozens of topics. The interview touches on my current projects, inspirations, and influences.
Here’s the link if you should need to type it in: https://www.sleepingdrake.com/blog
Also, be sure to check out Chris’s Blademage Saga and other works before you leave.
You’ve been there. You want to write, but life is thwarting you at all turns.
You have the perfect writing environment all decked out.
Paper … check.
Pencils (for no apparent reason) … check.
F-301 Bic click pens … check.
But when you sit down to write, the quiet is so deafening, you cannot think clearly enough to move those words that have been swimming around your head onto the page that sits there in front of you, disparaging your intellect and any other personal weakness it may perceive.
Or life gets in the way. The phone rings, the dog and cat get in a tussle, or you realize the refrigerator hasn’t been cleaned in six months. Days later you get to that white page and try to recall why you wanted to write in the first place.
Maybe you are filled with energy and direction, but every flat service in your house is covered in the town’s donations for a charity clothing drive. (Oh, wait, that’s the Gilmore Girls.)
Regardless, your writing has come to a standstill, so it’s time to get the heck out of there and find a sanctuary to dig in and get some words down, preferably before senility or some sort of aphasia prevents you from doing so. It’s time to write away from home.
In my next few posts, I will cover the many and varied ways I have experienced writing away from home. In Part 1, I begin with some of the more obvious options with some criteria you may not have considered.
Know Your Needs:
Before you grab the keys and head out the door, here are some basics when considering places to hone your craft.First, know your needs.
Most people need some distractions around them in order to fully concentrate on their work, but if you need more quiet than most, a library might serve you better than a loud coffee shop. Musical choices can matter. If being a member of the “Country Club’ doesn’t appeal to you, it may kill your creativity. Conversely, if too much quiet feels stifling, you may want to avoid libraries and deserted areas. Since you’re heading out into the public, you will likely have to scope out a place to know if it is a good fit for your writing requirements.
If you are the ancient pen and paper sort, you can go almost anywhere. With no electronic concerns, pen and paper remains the most versatile of writing implements. Limitations include windy and rainy weather, as well as indoor spaces with lots of air flow from doors opening and closing or fans (those are more common than you’d think).
If you are all-electronic, what power source do you need? Are you good for days on your charged iPad Mini (with a peripheral keyboard), or do you need a wall plug in for your laptop whose battery lasts for ten minutes if you’re lucky. Also, portable chargers are great when you find yourself in a jam, but I have found that they actually have to be charged periodically to be useful.
Do you need Wi-Fi? You may be able to make do with your phone as a hotspot in order to log into programs, work offline, then reconnect to save your work. I’ve found that certain sources offer great Wi-Fi, while others are spotty or non-existent. (“Sorry, our Wi-Fi is out” becomes a refrain at one local place, so I always have a backup or understand I will be working off-line there.)
The more you cover your own needs, the better off you’ll be, since even the best places can have temporary difficulties. For instance, a place where I write fairly often has great internet, normally, but during lunch time, the constant use of their microwave oven interrupts service. If I have to leave during a time the Wi-Fi is out, I open a hotspot and save before I shut down.
There are scads of places to write outside the home, some fairly obvious and some not commonly mentioned. Hopefully, in reading about some of these locations, their pluses and minuses, you will proceed with flexibility in mind, select a location, and experience writing there without a lot of wild goose chase activities (like fumbling over internet, having no power, or being inundated with rap music at full volume – unless that’s your thing). As someone who rarely writes at home, I have experienced most, if not all of these.
What follows is a two-part comprehensive, if not exhaustive, list of venues for writing and their pros and cons. I look forward to hearing from readers who have more places to share or input on ones I have mentioned.
Writing Away from Home Part One: Indoor Venues
So obvious, it’s a trope. Coffee lends itself to the writing process, as does the anonymity of sitting at a table for hours, sipping from a mug or disposable cup, and writing the great American novel. I prefer local shops, but the chains tend to offer better spaces.
Pros: Internet usually works great because that’s what people are there for. Most have electric outlets near every table. You can sit for long periods of time with one simple purchase. People tend to leave you alone. Most have alternatives to coffee, if you’d prefer something else.
Cons: You do have to buy something. There is one place I go, where I don’t really care for ANYTHING they serve, but they have the comfy seats and the cashiers are nice. I go when nothing else will work. Some places have really uncomfortable seats (so much so that I bought a portable chair pad from Costco. I’m not kidding. They are black with a handle and blend in well).
Who knew these still existed? Well, they do. If you’ve forgotten, these cafes not only offer internet but most have a computer for you to use for a nominal fee. If you’re traveling or suddenly without electronic connections, here’s you quick hook up. Go to cybercafes.com and search your state. Mine has thirteen, although none of them are in my area.
Pros: All the perks of a regular coffee shop plus computer access. Great for travelers. Some even have printer access, as well.
Cons: Can be hard to find. Sometimes services change but are not updated. Not usually good for longer usage.
Not all libraries are created equal. Some are ostentatiously huge; some are postage stamp sized. Some are packed and loud; others are calm and have easy access. The writing and computer areas in my local library are about as big as an average restaurant. When locals who have inadequate facilities come in to get out of the cold or heat, the place can get loud and crowded (and odoriferous). I have utilized libraries all across Oregon and Southwest Idaho, and I definitely have my favorites. I began and wrote most of my first novel in the Eugene Public Library. The two-story window on the east side of the building provides a wonderful offset of natural light to work by. Regardless of the issues with a burgeoning homeless population (which are not inconsequential), it remains one of my favorite places to write. Nampa Public Library, a structure built, ironically, in a town I left several years ago, has become a favorite place, as well, mostly due to access to private rooms where I can read my final drafts out loud to my generous technical editor/girlfriend prior to publishing. I know there are many great libraries across the country, including the Salt Lake City Public Library and the Anchorage Public Library
Pros: Free, free, free. Free access to internet, free computers (even as guest), free programs (book clubs, writing groups, computer/self-publishing classes). Free space. Get there early and learn where the best spot is (close to bathroom, away from crowd, best lighting, etc.). Also, free bookmarks, free reference materials, and, sometimes a free sounding board if you have an idea you want to run by Joan Q. Public.
Cons: Limited hours. I make use of long days whenever possible (My local library is open until 8 p.m. twice a week). Parking can be an issue. Crowds – usually during cold and hot times of year. Timed sessions if using their computers. Also, limitations on food and drink can cut your writing time short, so bring a water bottle and non-crinkly snacks unless you want to risk chastisement from Madam Taskmaster who fails to notice you are not handling library materials as she makes a beeline for you while ignoring the person two tables down who is making fried bologna sandwiches on a hotplate.
Somebody Else’s House:
Seems like the obvious next step, but it’s often overlooked. If you have (legal and welcome) access to someone else’s house, it could be the perfect place to write. Be it your next door neighbor, your friends who are on vacation or at work, or the family cabin in the off-season. With a change of scenery, your creative mind will feel refreshed. No chores beckoning, no child or pet begging attention, and, of course, the place is much tidier than your place.
Pros: See all of the above. Plus, no one has to know you’re there, as long as the owner isn’t a blabber mouth. You can write anywhere. Maybe you like their dining room table or sitting on the back deck. Maybe the floor and coffee table provide the best set up. Or you could stand at the kitchen island and type. No one is here to judge you.
Cons: No one knows you’re here. What was that noise? Don’t break anything. Also, you have to go back home. Eventually.
From trade and community colleges to large universities, schools provide lots of places to work. Most have a dining hall of some sort, one or more libraries, writing lab, picnic tables, and several indoor areas for lounging.
Pros: An academic environment is conducive to creativity. Sometimes you will find stunning work areas. The third floor at my son’s college library has two or three tables and a gorgeous view of the mountains. My alma mater, University of Tennessee, had about a million places to write, other than the expansive library, including the phenomenal Arts and Architecture Building and the Europa and the Bull replica in the fountain outside the Liberal Arts Tower. Also, you may find unique reference materials, abundant dining services and snacks, and longer hours of access during school year.
Cons: Parking can be a huge issue at large universities. Guest Wi-Fi may not be available, so you’d be back to using your hotspot. Excessive walking and asking questions may be required to find the place you are most comfortable writing. Schools can become dead zones when students are on break and during the summer. I once walked into an unlocked administrative building to find no person on staff in the main area and only found people in a hidden conference room on the second floor.)
Government buildings, business centers, labor department:
Many public buildings offer quiet areas for people to meet and common areas that offer services. Perhaps your city county building has a large cafeteria with Wi-Fi and electrical outlets. Maybe you have a local business center that offers writing services/space. While not likely a great place for long writing sessions, in a pinch you may want to check with your local labor department to print out an excerpt and see what services they may offer.
Pros: These are public places, and staff usually is eager to help. You may hear extremely interesting conversations.
Cons: Short term solution. Staff is usually asked the same three or four questions, so a lot of patience may be required when you ask for something outside the norm.
So, there are a few suggestions to get you started. Next time, I will continue highlighting indoor spaces for writing away from home but move onto less typical venues. I will include a run-down of some of the most popular chain restaurants and my experiences there. Stay tuned.
Amy Stinnett writes the blog Laugh. Snark. Love. and is the author of the novel Lookout Butte and the Chickenshit Series. Her works feature LGBTQ characters.
I was just notified that my paperback books are now available at Powell’s Online. I got curious to see if I was listed anywhere else and found Barnes and Noble and a few others have picked up one or more of my books for sale in paperback. (Ebooks are only through Kindle.) Even Blackwell’s in the UK and Booktopia in Australia have me listed.
I am excited and wanted to share this with you. As a new Indie writer, I view all of these milestones with wonder and awe. It took me decades to begin writing in earnest and three years to complete my first novel, so it kind of blows my mind to be listed. It’s a great feeling to know my work is out in the world.
Timing is everything! Last week I was in Boise for some feed and egg deliveries, so Steph and I could stay in town to see a local author do a reading at Rediscovered Books. The author is Natalie Perry, and her book is a memoir about growing up in Idaho, with all its conservative values, and having two dads, as well as how she has lived in and out of the closet throughout her life. The reading went very well, with some Q&A afterwords, and I was glad to support a local author, especially when she speaks on topics near and dear to my heart. (Also, Pho Nouveau, is handily right across the street.)
I will post again tomorrow to announce the pre-release for my latest novel in the Chickenshit series. (I think it has the best cover so far.) It is live now, if you search me in Amazon, but I will post links and reveal the cover tomorrow.
Stay cool, y’all!
Natalie Perry’s account of her childhood as a daughter with gay dads (and a mom) sheds a light into the often overlooked life of queerspawn. Children of gay parents are seldom brought up in regards to LGBTQ issues except to throw accusations at their parents. What about the children? These concerned citizens bemoan.
According to Dad #1, Dad #2, A Queerspawn View from the Closet, the children are just fine. Even though her family has struggles common to most families, one distinct issue always rises to the surface – the closet.
Natalie walks us through her experiences, from middle school to college, from her home town to foreign cities, and shows us why successful and well-adjusted people may still have to hide being LGBTQ or having family members who are in order to make it through the day without being fired (or not hired), disowned, or lectured by people who favor their own beliefs above treating others fairly. Finally, she shows some of the consequences faced when she misjudged who to trust and with what information, as well as how the closet permeates almost every aspect of life.
This memoir is entertaining. The story moves along at a steady pace without an overage of self-reflection, and there are poems included after each chapter that do not interfere with the story’s progress. Most importantly, the book offers insights for anyone wanting to understand the ways society forces individuals and families into hiding and why this needs to change.
Three roosters sat in a box on the floor. Bud adeptly reached in and pulled one bird into a football hold, smoothed its feathers to calm it, then slid it head-first into the cone. Its head peered out the open bottom, but the bird was calm. He scooped up the other roosters in like manner and deposited them into the empty cones.
“They crow and the neighbors don’t like it,” he explained.
“They are pretty,” I shoved my hands down in my pockets.
“Pretty, no pretty, all gotta go. No pain, though.” He tugged the first one’s head down a little, and a blade sliced through the bird’s neck. Blood poured down into a bucket beneath the cones. The legs tensed, but within seconds there was no movement at all. “See, no pain.” He moved on and did the other two birds exactly the same. “Now, they’re meat.” He pointed over to a giant sink-looking thing with heated water and to a metal tube with rubber on the outside. It looked like the inside of a washing machine. “Into the scalder, then the picker, then I take off the legs. ” There was a little slide through place on the stainless steel counter. “Then over to them to pull the insides, clean, chill, and package.”
“How long does it take?”
“Only a few minutes, times how many birds.”
He led the way back outside, where Elliot had already pulled the crates off the truck and stacked them next to the back door. I placed my hand on a crate, felt and heard the birds shifting inside it. I did my best to clear my mind of the images of the adorable baby chicks that once sat in my hand, remembering a Native American custom to thank the animal for its life. I don’t know if that’s a real thing or something I saw in one of Dad’s movies, but it felt right, so I did it.
Some backstory: Billie has never had to kill anything larger than a mosquito before. Her dad ordered meat birds the year before he died, and they were sprung on her without notice. With no livestock experience, she is uncertain how to feel about this little reality of farm life.
If you didn’t grow up on a farm, how would you feel about having to do this? Would you be directly involved, get someone to do it for you and cling to denial, or try to dump the whole problem onto somebody else?
Keep in mind that in her situation, the birds were ordered before she even knew she would be living on the farm. Also, these are meat birds, which are not bred for longevity. Even if they were spared the gallows, they would likely have health issues, and Billie would be stuck with over a hundred extra birds with no use for them.
If you are new to raising chickens or other livestock, what practices help you resolve any inner conflicts?
If you’re a seasoned farmer, do you still have any qualms about it, or is just a thing you have to do? Have you done the butchering, yourself, or do you go to a commercial processor?
If you’re opposed to raising chickens or other animals for meat, you’re welcome to comment, too, but please stay on topic.
All comments must be respectful or they will be removed.
You can pre-order the Kindle version of Chickenshit Volume 2 Just Hatched ahead of its release on April 1st. I hope to have the paperback version ready by then, too. So if you’re an I only like to read real books kind of person, we should have you covered. As always, I do the $1 eBook match.
Chickenshit Volume 1 Or How a City Girl Does Country All Wrong and my first novel, Lookout Butte, can be found on my Kindle and in paperback on my Amazon author page.
For the last month I have been scrambling (get it) to get the second volume of Chickenshit ready for publication.
The series follows a year in the life of Billie Hatcher, a college student from Seattle, as she navigates owning a farm, having a new girlfriend, and living in rural Idaho. Billie learns that farm life can be rewarding, frustrating, tragic, spiritually uplifting, isolating, and unifying. Just when she thinks she’s getting the hang of her new life, something she never thought of catches her off guard. If nothing else, she’s developing coping skills, and maybe someday the place will feel like home.
You can pre-order the Kindle version of Chickenshit Volume 2 Just Hatched ahead of its release on April 1st. I hope to have the paperback version ready by then, too. So if you’re an I only like to read real books kind of person, we should have you covered. As always, I do the $1 eBook match.
Here is a preview from Chapter 1. I hope you like it.
March 30, 2013
At the risk of sounding like a girl. I am in heaven. Jodie and I finally went on an actual date last night. We went to Boise, of course, to a movie at The Flicks, followed by a late dinner at a pho restaurant a few streets over. I don’t know how, but we never run out of things to talk about. Not only that, when we are quiet for a moment, there’s this warmth, a connection between us, that makes the silence comfortable, too.
We sat close together on the hood of my car, holding hands and gazing out over downtown from the top of the parking garage. Drunks of all types, North Enders, families, couples, and loners shuffled along on the streets below us.
“There used to be a Subway, over there.” Jodie pointed. “My family had a booth at Saturday Market one summer, back before it was so big, and I would run over and grab a sandwich. My parents always gave me shit about eating fast food when there was so much good food at the market.” She shrugged. “I was a kid. I was kind of limited. That pho was great, though. I’ve never had it, or those spring rolls.”
“It’s kind of a Seattle staple. I never had it growing up in Sacramento. Chinese was about as exotic as it got there. They do have it now, though.”
“My mom loved Chinese food. We have the place in Emmett, but she liked this restaurant here that used to be over next to the steakhouse. A few streets over that way.” She arched her arm and pointed like a bomb dropping. Billie found it endearing the way that Jodie liked to use her hands to speak.
“You don’t talk about your mom much. It must still be really hard for you.”
“Well, yes and no.” She sat, thinking it over. “She’s everywhere. And that’s both comforting and heartbreaking. Sometimes at work, I feel like she’s about to hand me a book to re-shelve, and when they call me Mrs. Miller, I want to turn around and look behind me.”
“She must have been an amazing mom; you turned out great.”
“Well, she wasn’t great when I was little. She would be the first to tell you she wasn’t perfect. She drank a lot and kind of got around, if you know what I mean. My biological father could have been one of any number of guys.”
“Russ isn’t your real dad? I mean, your biological dad? But you look alike.”
“Not really, but people always say that. We have the same smile and mannerisms. I look more like my mom, Basque, some Mexican. But I wanted to be just like Russ from five on. The way they met … Mom was actually on her way back from a “date” when her tire blew out. Dad stopped and changed her tire, made sure she got home okay. Typical Russ. The next day he went to the diner where she worked and asked her out. By the time I was six, everything had changed. Mom rarely ever drank, we had a real home, you know. Mom got a job at the library part time and eventually moved up. She only had her AA degree – she did that online mostly.”
“I went through my own wild period, too. Nothing like my mom’s, but I drank and smoked pot when I moved to Boise. I dated guys and girls. I almost bombed out, one semester. It wasn’t fun, so I gave it up. I used to go to The Balcony. Back when I was trying to work through my sexuality, it was a place I could hang out with gay friends who weren’t afraid to be out with me and straight friends who didn’t care. How ‘bout you? When did you figure it out?”
“Oh, I think I always knew. Way back in kindergarten I fell in love with a girl in first grade, Lilly Jett. When her class would walk down the hallway past our door, it was like she was moving in slow motion, you know, hair blowing, her head turning towards me. I went home and asked my mom if girls could like girls. She said they could, and I took it from there. I know I’m lucky in that. I’ve heard lots of horror stories. Were your parents okay with it?”
“Well, I actually never told my mom. We didn’t talk about sex at home, and our church said it was a sin. We went to a Catholic church, Mom and I. Dad was raised Presbyterian, but he doesn’t go to church or make a big deal about it. He says your beliefs are your own, and there’s no call for trying to make others believe the way you do. Anyway, by the time I figured my sexuality out, Mom was sick and I didn’t want to upset her. Eventually, I told my dad. He wanted to know if I had a girlfriend or if I was exhibiting any risky behavior, whatever that meant. It made me laugh, on both accounts, because I am basically a hermit. But you know, my dad’s pretty sheltered. Anyway, he’s cool. He likes you.”
“Really? Does he know we’re …” I hesitated. There have been times in my past when defining a relationship in any way was the kiss of death. “Seeing each other.”
Jodie laughed at me. “He’s pretty sure we’re dating, but we haven’t talked about it. He raises an eyebrow and says ‘Again?’ when I tell him I’m headed over to your place. That’s his way of letting me know he cares without trying to tell me what to do. If he had a problem, he would have said something when I stayed over those couple of times.”
“I like your dad a lot.”
“Me, too. He has always been there for me. I wish he would date or something, but he won’t even hear of it. When he’s not working, he’s hunting or fishing. I go sometimes.”
“You hunt? Like you shoot deers?”
“And cut out their guts? And tie ‘em on your truck?”
“My dad’s truck bed, but yes. One deer will last us all winter. If we get a second one, we can give it to a family that needs it. And there is always a family that needs it.”
“Wow.” We had been staring at the building across the street. “What’s that mean? ‘Union Block.’ Is that about the mining unions? I heard there were a lot of conflicts over unions out here, like spies and mining ‘accidents.’”
“There were. You know, we could take a day trip up to Silver City sometime, if you want. But that building was actually named by some pro-Union people, from the Civil War. There’s more Civil War history around here, if you look for it. Most of the historical markers talk about the Oregon Trail, though.”
“Yeah, that’s mostly what I’ve seen.” I started to get cold, so I stood up to go. “Shall we?”
Jodie held my hand on the way back to Milepost. It was close to midnight when we got back, but even though she couldn’t stay, she came in for a few minutes and we plopped onto the couch.
“I wish you could stay.”
“I know you’re used to things moving faster, but I think we should take our time. There’s no rush.”
“I’m okay with that. I think about you all the time, though. I like being with you, no matter what we’re doing.”
“Me, too. But I don’t think I can stay over here again and not jump your bones.”
I laughed. “Jump my bones?”
“Sorry, I’m around older people a lot.” She shrugged but then leaned across me and gave me a long, soft, wet kiss. The kind of kiss that caused or ended wars. The kind of kiss that made people cross the ocean or catch red-eyes across continents. The kind of kiss that made me want to bolt the door behind us and not come out until summer.
“Gotta go.” She stood up.
“Ugh! No way.” I went to one knee.
“Hey, this hurts me more than it hurts you.”
“Gotta grab the bull by the horns.”
“I thought we were trading random expressions.”
“Ha.” She took a deep breath and looked at me. “I gotta go.”
“I know. See you Sunday?”
“With bells on.”
I stood at the edge of the porch and watched her drive away. Despite the cold, I was still warm from being close to Jodie. I sat down on the step and looked up at the millions of stars in the sky. I found the big dipper, which pointed me to the Little Dipper and Polaris, the North Star. The star to guide your ship by. I stared at Polaris and did the ‘arc to Arcturus,’ and I would have ‘spiked to Spica, but the trees in the yard were too high. I breathed in a sigh of, what was this, happiness? Huh. So, that’s what that feels like.
April 1, 2013
I have been getting up early a lot lately. I usually have a couple of cups of coffee and some toast with jam. I can’t figure out if that’s European or old person style, but, either way, it kind of settles me. The strange thing is, when I first wake up, I could swear someone was smoking a pipe on the porch, but when I go out and check, there’s nobody there and no smoky smell when I open the door. It’s probably my mind playing games with me. I have been reading more of my dad’s journals and some of his notes on the farm. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to slaughter goats this fall, but one thing at a time.
I just started my second cup of coffee when my phone rang.
“Is this Billie Hatcher, Dan Hatcher’s daughter? This is Betty, down at the post office.”
“Yes, this is Billie.”
“Well, good morning, Billie. Your chicks are in.” Betty spoke with a sure voice. She could have just as easily said, “Your car’s due for a tune up.”
“Yeah, your chicks. Well, your dad’s. Sorry for your loss. We like hearing them cheep and all, but you should probably come get ‘em soon. They’ve been across the country.”
I was not comprehending, but I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. “Okay, I’ll be right over.”
I called Elliot.
“Yep, April 1st, that’s about right.”
“They ship chickens through the mail?”
“Yeah. He gets ‘em from a hatchery in Iowa.”
“But won’t they die from the cold or lack of food and water?”
“No, they overnight ship ‘em. They huddle together to stay warm and have food left over from their egg sack.”
“But we can have eggs to hatch anytime we want. Why would we buy chicks?”
“It’s the meat birds.” Now Elliot was being annoyingly certain, too.
“They’re different than the birds we have?”
“Oh, yeah. And we feed ‘em different, too. You want me to help you go get ‘em?”
I figured I could fit them in the back seat or the very back of my car. “No, I got it. But you’ll be here to help me set them up, right?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
I went into the post office, and Betty was at the front counter. “Oh, hey, honey. Look, you probably want to drive around to the back, and we can bring them out. Also, sorry I had to ask around to get your phone number.” I wonder who had it. “I guess there’s no landline out at the farm. Your dad always gave his cell phone.” She pointed to a paper on the bulletin board behind me that simply read COMPUTER HELP and had Dad’s phone number on it. “But I tried that, and I guess it’s shut off.”
“Yep. So, you knew my dad?”
“Oh, yeah. He was so funny. He ordered some turkey chicks once, I don’t know what they’re called, and they were so ugly they were adorable. He gave me one, and we could never bring ourselves to eat it. We called it Thomasina and kept it forever. It either died of old age or ran off with a group of wild turkeys. Every year he told me I’d better eat it for Thanksgiving before the coyotes do. Your daddy was a good one.”
“Anyway, they have your birds ready out on the loading dock.”
“Okay. What are they in, some sort of cage?”
“No, they’re in boxes.”
“Box – es?”
“Yeah, only two. I think it’s about a hundred birds. They’re about yay big.” She held her hands out about two, then three feet apart.
One hundred birds? I drove around back, and the guy handed them down to me. I tried to peek in at them, but all I saw was beaks, eyeballs, and feathers, none of it adding up to a whole chick. Rather than risk escapees, I ignored my curiosity and didn’t open either box. Also, I was afraid there might be a dead chick. There was a lot of scratching and chirping until they finally settled into a rhythmic cheeping for the short drive home.
By the time I got there, Elliot was starting to feed the chickens, but he stopped to help with the baby chicks. In the back of the meat bird pen, he uncovered two large metal tubs I had never paid any attention to. We gathered a couple of smaller feeders and waterers, a bag of feed, and a giant bag of pine shavings. He pealed back a chicken wire cover on each of the tubs and showed me how to set them up.
“So, it’s still pretty cold. Do we need a heat lamp or something?” I had seen those at the farm supply store.
“Well, your dad got rid of all his heat lamps a long time ago. I’ll show you what we do.” He went into the storage box and pulled out what looked like two grills, only the grill side faced down. There were two extension cords in the pen, and we put the heaters in one corner of each tub. “It doesn’t get hot. You can put your hand on it.” He pressed his hand against the ‘grill’ side and held it out to me. It was warm but not too hot to touch. “Just enough to keep them warm until they feather in.”
We got the chicks and set them down into the tubs one at a time. We each counted fifty-four. His chicks were light yellow with darker backs, and mine were mostly yellow all over. No deaths and eight extras! They were adorable. We set up their feeders and waterers, and Elliot said that was good enough for now, other than checking and cleaning their mess a couple of times a day. Elliot told me that meat birds eat way more feed than regular chickens. They eat so much that you have to take their food away for twelve hours a day when they get a week old. They can grow so fast that they can’t walk or their hearts give out. Dad has been doing cross breeds that grow slower but fewer die. These guys will be gone in less than three months. Another shipment will get here the first week of June. So, I guess I’m going to have to figure out how not to get attached.
How could anyone kill and eat something this cute? Anyway, I’m trying to focus on what I’m doing right now and deal with the other stuff as it comes up. Out in the field, the kids were scampering and butting heads, goading their moms into kid behavior. Elliot and I finished feeding the chickens (the grey hen’s chicks are getting big), and the vet came out and picked him up. She took a second to check Frodo’s paw, and they were off.
After they left, Frodo and I took a little walk over to Dad’s tree. I sat on a stump and had a little talk with him. Dad, that is. It was quiet except for a few tiny birds in the bushes and an occasional truck on the highway. There was no one around, but I tell you, for a second, I could smell pipe smoke again.
Thanks for reading! Please comment or PM me via my author page on FB. I always look forward to feedback. How do you think Billie will cope with raising animals for food? Do you think small town Idaho will be kind to the new couple? What do you think of the cover?