Complex Lives of Local Characters

By Ann Minnett

I live in the mountains of NW Montana, twenty miles from a tourist town. My small town used to be known for logging and then became a railroad town, but the impact of those industries has waned. Our economy relies upon visitors, mostly in winter and summer, who come to enjoy our great outdoors. Construction, service industries, restaurants and bars, outdoor exploration, and retail shops keep this valley buzzing.

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Sunrise in the Last Best Place

Thirty years ago, I was one of those tourists. I fell in love with this area and returned for vacations at least once every year for two decades. We bought property early on, finally built a house in 2009, and followed through on a promise to ourselves to live here fulltime.

 

 

 

We’ve lived here year-round for eight

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Courtesy: Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau

years. We love sharing Montana with friends and family and have no thoughts of leaving. While dreams do come true, I’ve thought a lot about the differences between visiting a place and residing there. In all those years of playing outdoors and eating hearty meals and shopping for souvenirs, I paid scant attention to the lives of everyday residents.

 

The ‘locals’ in my picturesque hometown—those with complicated, embedded lives–are the rich characters I write about. I’ve come to know them through writing groups (everyone has a book or a poem in them), advocacy for abused and neglected children, drug/alcohol recovery in this valley, and toe-in-the-water political activism. The hairdressers, shopkeepers, wait staff, once existed to tend to the Tourist Me. Now I see them juggle childcare and work, try to find affordable housing while earning minimum wage, work one or two seasonal jobs, find time to play, and cling to the values of their grandparents, all while rubbing shoulders with billionaires or just the moderately rich.

Fifteen Years of Lies FINAL EBOOK COVERMy third novel, Fifteen Years of Lies, recounts the story of three local friends—a housekeeper, hairdresser, and owner of an auto repair shop—and the wealthy stranger who comes to town to threaten their lives. My forthcoming fourth novel, tentatively entitled Me Between Them, also takes place here. Long story short: A middle-aged widow fights to keep her family together and her grandchildren safe from domestic violence despite a daughter-in-law’s vicious lies and her husband’s revelations from the grave.

I hope you’ll visit NW Montana. If and when you do, enjoy! but notice the locals you meet. Sometimes they have the most remarkable lives.

~ Ann

Ann Minnett MWW photo

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My Inner-Children Have Issues

Sis. McCaffrey    By Janice McCaffrey

In my early teen years I envisioned myself as a best-selling author of “THE great American novel” until . . .

Mrs. Foster’s 8th grade English class when we were assigned to write a descriptive paragraph. My imagination took over and I penned what I thought a fabulous portrayal of a Regency Era carriage.

The next day, expecting an A+, I sat at my desk straight backed and proud. Then Mrs. Foster handed my paper to me and instead of an A+ there was a huge red D; the paragraph riddled with red ü marks. In that horrifying moment, my writing career ended. I never received explanations for the check marks. And pretty much saw grammar and good writing over my head and out of reach. Yes, I could identify and properly use the basics: subjects, predicates, nouns, adjectives, verbs, and past, present and future tenses, but never grasped the finer points.

But then I’ve never been a quitter. So as a young mother with an infant I signed up for a fiction writing correspondence course. Yes, the one advertised in match books. I didn’t like following the formulas taught and eventually one instructor told me that before you can be a novelist you needed something to say. Obviously, I didn’t have anything to say.

very few years, I’d try again; receiving rejection letters from popular magazines (i.e. Redbook, my Bible of womanhood).

Then, as life would have it, in my retirement I found a good friend who just happened to be a published author. It took a few years of her encouragement, but I’m back to my early writing goal. My friend is my mentor, critique partner, and . . . a retired English teacher.

Now when she gives my papers back to me there are no red checks or grades and, in fact, there are often comments about good ideas, writing or scenes. But every now and then I hear “You have a dangling participle.” And there I am sitting in Mrs. Foster’s class holding that D paper. My mind freezes.

Then my 10-year-old inner-child comes to the rescue with humor erupting with, “Who the heck made up these words?” We laugh. She tries to explain in a way I can understand as I attempt to calm my inner- 8th grader. I go home, study grammatical rules and lingo and rewrite.

After several of these interactions, my friend loaned me Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto. I found the explanation of the word participle: “Greek – shares or partaker. Latin to English: Capture or participate.” An online dictionary says: “a participle is a word formed from a verb and used as an adjective or a noun. In English participles can also be used to make compound verb forms.”

And you’ve guessed it, my 8th grader’s brain froze and my 10-year-old shouted, “Who the h— thought this stuff up? My inner-children continue their habits whenever they hear grammatical terms, but thank Heavens I have a patient friend and mentor who parents these headstrong children with kindness and humor.

Thank you, my friend!

 

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions . . .

By Janice McCaffrey 

I am a huge fan of Michael Lewis, the non-fiction author who wrote Blindside, Moneyball, and The Short Game to name only those that Hollywood made into feature films. His latest book is The Undoing Projectundoing-project a prose which explains how two Israeli psychologists, between defending their country during three fierce wars, figured out how human brains make decisions.

Soon after World War II Amos Tversky, a Russian, and Daniel Kahneman, a German, became citizens of the new State of Israel. They met at the Hebrew University and began asking one another the whys and what ifs of decision making. Their collaboration continued for over twenty-eight years. They co-authored numerous articles published in scientific journals as they lived and worked in Israel, the United States, and Canada.

 Their subjects included university, high, and elementary school students; medical doctors; psychologists; and economists. The study questions Tversky and Kahnman utilized are based on common situational decisions. I can add that in turn, these examples are simple, complex, and humorous.

For details I’m studying Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow.thinking-book He explains in the introduction that his goal is to “create discussion around the office water cooler.” In other words, he wants everyone, not only academics, to understand how we reach our decisions, and learn steps to help us arrive at better ones. The synopsis says:synopsis

Tversky and Kahneman shared their findings with a variety of disciplines: besides psychology, they included medicine, team-sports management, financial investing, and economics. In fact, in 2002, Daniel Kahneman became the first psychologist to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. Sadly, Amos Tversky passed away before he could share the honor.

As a beginner fiction writer, who’s still on the bunny hill, I wondered how I could use this information. Studying and pondering has brought me to the hope that I can practice the mental steps necessary to make better decisions about my writing and to create characters with more depth.  

I want to show readers the humanness of people portrayed in my stories as they make their choices–the good ones and the not so good. I want to show why their illogical decisions seemed reasonable to them at the time. And I want to put them through their own undoing projects. I look forward to creating multifaceted characters as I learn from these experts.

Thank you, Michael Lewis for bringing Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahnman into my life.