Learning to Ski

By:  Nan McKenzie, November 23, 2015

Downstairs in the Summit House, where the chair lift takes you on Big Mountain, there are pictures of early Whitefish.  My eight-year-old self is featured in one, me in a long heavy coat, reaching for the rope tow on the bunny slope.  The picture was taken in 1950, and I wanted to be like my older sister, who was on the ski team for Whitefish High School.  She was wonderful, tall and athletic, and would compete in races with skiers from all over.  Well, until she broke her leg and ended a promising career.

My mother had very little money in those days, and it was difficult for her to come up with $2.50 for me, $2 to ski, $.50 for the bus to and fro.  I had to carry my own lunch, squashed-up peanut butter sandwiches.  My skis were way too big for my height, heavy wooden things that were meant for a strong man.  They had an evil mind of their own, going lots of places I never intended.  The only poles I had were borrowed, and my ski gloves were Dad’s old work gloves that wore out quickly on the rope tow.  My floppy galoshes didn’t grasp the binders too well, and sometimes they came off, leaving me staggering down the hill in my socks.

I can still feel the grab of the rushing tow, pulling myself up to ride next to the rope, my skis dancing in snow ruts made by the many skiers before me.  I had no idea how to ski, just pointed downhill and hoped I could stop.  The easiest way to stop was to sit down and slide, snow bunching up under my long heavy coat, and trying to ignore people laughing at me.

I taught myself to snow plow by watching others do it, but it was not always successful, with lots of face plants, and cold snow pushing into my sleeves.  The exhilaration of flying downhill was worth the cold, the snow covering my clothes, the runny nose.

Each November, I still get antsy, wanting to buy some skis, some boots, try my legs again.  I had taken up skiing again in the seventies, traveling to Bozeman and Big Sky and other more obscure hills.  I was never very good, but managed to keep from injuring myself and still loved flying downhill.   The time is past for me to get out on the slopes, though I do miss it.


How valuable Critique Partners Are

Last Monday, Ann blogged about the help she received from her critique group.  I thought I would do the same.  Just yesterday an email arrived from one of my critique partners who is traveling in Europe.  When I learned Brian was flying into Edinburgh Air Port, I asked him to take notes of the country side because I have the ladies in my upcoming novel, Harbor Hills Road, deplane at that airport.  Imagine my surprise and gratitude when I read the following note from Brian See.

bookaflightpromo59EF2198A867logolargeIt was a great sensation walking down the steps exiting the KLM flight from Amsterdam.   The Edinburgh air was musty and chilled with the moisture left after the morning fog had lifted.  My feet hit the tarmac at the bottom of the stairs and the race with other departed passengers was on.  Who would get to the customs gate first? I felt good about my prospects having been one of the first people off the plane.

“UK residents to the right, all others to the left,” the agent kept repeating with, “Have your entry form ready with passport,” interjected every third or fourth time.

“What form is that?” I ask.

He rips a three-by-four slip off a pad and hands me a skinny three-inch blue pen and points behind me to a small counter while continuing his rote cadence.  Shit.  I haul myself along with light luggage which no longer felt light or like luggage—more like an anchor now.   I realize my bladder is beginning to exert some pressure.  Just what I need, right?  I fill out the form and turn around to find myself at the end of a long line. So much for first through the gate.  It appears the UK residents get priority service.  Soon I’ll be doing the tight bladder shuffle.  On the other side of the passport agents, I see the familiar man and woman symbols we are universally accustomed to.

Finally, the UK natives are through and all agents are waving my line forward.  I hand the lady my slip, answer a few pointless questions, ask about currency exchange and head for the WC.  Now the only pressure is to get to the station and catch a train for Glasgow.  I’m getting quite weary having not slept yet.  I trade currency at the exchange and grab my luggage.  Out on the sidewalk there is a ticket booth for the busses.  I buy a ticket to the Edinburgh central station and hop on the waiting bus.  The streets are busy like any city.  For the most part, buildings are devoid of bright colors or large plate glass windows.  Stone and brick are the main themes.  There is a tower, very gothic, Medieval and tall. The stone is so dark it appears black and foreboding.  It could be right out of a Hollywood movie.  I wish I had time to go and see it up close.  The famous Edinburgh Castle is perched above the city not far from the train station.  It’s been forty-five years since I was last here.

The Scots are friendly, smile quite a bit and have a penchant for joking.  The invasion of people from other cultures is sharp in contrast.  They scowl and are curt in conversation almost angry.

I hop a train for Glasgow.

Most of Brian’s words will find their way into the scene I need.  Thank you, Critique Partner.


By Ann Minnett

Imagine six people and a barking dog in a cabin. Two people threaten the bad guy to tell his secrets, but three others fight to prevent the secrets from coming out. The characters struggle—verbally and physically. A gun goes off, and chaos ensues.

My critique partners recently reviewed this climactic scene of my third novel. Yes, it’s emotionally charged, and the dialogue works well, but they had trouble knowing where each person stood, fell, or lunged at any given point. I envisioned the scene clearly, but it confused my readers. The group suggested I choreograph the scene, that is, draw a floor plan of the cabin with furniture, props and people moving around. Each blue dot represents a character below.

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I learned a lot from constructing this floor plan and moving my characters with the action.

  1. I couldn’t draw the room I originally envisioned! The physical space wasn’t clearly defined in my head.
  2. No wonder the original scene confused my critique group. Those characters hopped all over and often teleported from the front door to the stairs without explanation.
  3. I rewrote the scene, moving each character with the action. Important details became clear—details I had overlooked in the first draft. For example, one woman smashed her knee into the coffee table when she jumped from the couch, and another backed away from the bad guy and felt the heat of the wood stove burn his jeans.

I’ll incorporate floor plans of important locations in my research from now on.