Accidental Cowgirl Mary Lynn Archibald

Big happenings going on at the Hall of Fame today! Mary Lynn Archibald is dropping in with her book Accidental Cowgirl: Six Cows, No Horse and No Clue on her WOW! Blog Book tour.
As it also happens, a couple of roofers dropped in today to work, so I hope you’ll excuse a couple of bang bangs here and a bang bang there. If you’d read Mary Lynn’s funny memoir about her experience living at Twin Creeks Ranch, you’d laugh at this coincidence. ‘Cause if there’s anything I learned from reading Accidental Cowgirl, it’s that it’s always something. But I should let Mary Lynn tell you more…

New challenges can actually keep you youthful, but I was unaware of that when my husband and I found ourselves living on 120 acres of amazing steep land in a remote forest in Trinity County, California, trying to raise cattle.

Actually when we saw a gorgeous meadow with pretty white and caramel colored cows meandering through, it never occurred to us somehow what was involved in keeping it that way.

What we saw was a magnificent view, acres of streams, two burbling streams (with waterfalls) and a lovely two acre pond in which we would swim and laze on all the wonderful relaxed days we intended to spend at our wonderful country retreat.

Little did we know that we were poised to enter a whole new, strange and wonderful period of our lives, and an almost mystical connection with the land. Twin Creeks Ranch. Our own private Shangri-La.

It turned out that the cows we had seen went with the place. Who knew? Indeed, who knew anything about cows? Not these two fifty-something suburbanites. The whole experience was so unique and fascinating that I faithfully kept a journal the whole time we were there. I knew nobody would believe me otherwise.

We soldiered on for twelve years at the ranch, doing the best we knew how (which wasn’t much) for a herd of cows we grew to love; a herd that grew from six to nearly thirty. I should mention that these were beef cattle, so the object is to raise them and then to sell them-something we found difficult to do. Ours were Polled Herefords, which most any rancher will tell you, have the sweetest nature of any cow there is.

They were sweet. We named every one: Peaches, Paco, Pansy, Curly, Hortense, Hamburger, and so on. That turned out to be a mistake as you can imagine.
They became our largest pets and our biggest worry. And then there were few other things to worry about: the flower garden; the orchard; the two ranch cats we’d inherited that, according to the previous owners, had spent their whole lives on the ranch and couldn’t be moved, and the half-acre vegetable garden. Add to this that we had a four hour commute each way from home to retreat, and our retreat quickly became our home.
We were challenged, all right. We were also tired. I can’t say our “Fountain of Youth” ran over, but I do know I got in a lot better shape, charging up and downhill from the house to the barn, from the barn to the pond, from the pond another half-mile to the neighbor’s fence, in search of wayward cows.

The folks who owned the porperty before us, a sweet couple in their 70’s who loved the animals and land as much as we did, looked fit but weary. My predecessor swore that her doctor said she had the heart of one much younger, due to altitude (2500-3000 feet) and exercise (see above). She seemed youthful and happy.

But then, she was leaving.

Mary Lynn writes about her life on the ranch with humor and pluck, but she also writes about tons of stuff that’s so foreign to this Georgia gal that I was simply fascinated, page after page. I learned quite a bit about that area of our country, and quite a bit more about cows. Which may not sound exactly riveting, but honestly, I couldn’t put her memoir down. Maybe because I sat there thinking, Hmmm. I’m about the same age as Mary Lynn was when she started her adventure on the ranch. And mowing the lawn is kind of an adventure for me.

Oh, I also asked Mary Lynn a writer-ly question, for those of you considering your own memoir-writing. I wanted to know how she fleshed out her book, and how she remembered those (Ker-plunk! Falling roof debris-hold on a sec-) days so well. As you read, she kept a journal. But she also researched Trinity County, with the added good fortune of having access to many first-hand accounts from local historians (from the 1960’s). Mary Lynn wrote that “it really helped me in writing the historical background of the memoir, and in addition it helped me understand something about the personalities of the people who originally settled the place.”
You’ve got to be tough, to embrace that kind of living, says Mary Lynn. As one mountain woman told her, “When the power goes out around here, we don’t get upset. We just open another bottle of wine and wait till it comes on again.”

And that pretty much sums it up, says Mary Lynn. But if you ask me, there’s much more. So you’ll want to check out her memoir, Accidental Cowgirl, here. Or snoop around where Mary Lynn Archibald blogs here or where she talks business here.

Or you know what? (Dril-l-l-l-l! Sheesh-I can’t think!) Read her book for an inside view of ranching, cows, and wine. I’m giving it away to one lucky commenter. So leave a thought or two, and your email, if I don’t have it. I’ll draw a name on Friday (when the gutter guys are here , banging away).

Linda Joy Meyers and The Power of Memoir Giveaway!


The WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour is stopping by Cathy C’s Hall of Fame today with Linda Joy Meyers and her recently released The Power of Memoir. And that’s a good thing. Because not only do you get to share Linda Joy’s insightful thoughts about Accidental Enlightenment, but you also get a chance to win her wonderful how-to book!

Let’s see what Linda Joy has to say on writing in Accidental Enlightenment:

As a memoir writer and therapist, I’m always on the lookout for the small slices of life that make a story. Whether we realize it or not, we weave small stories as we go about our everyday life. What happens on an ordinary day as you drive to the store? You could have a lovely ride where you see all the beauty of the world-red roses and yellow tulips, a beautiful dog, smiling children; or if you’re having a bad day, you might have a small rear-end accident, irritating, but you’re grateful that no one was hurt. A trip to the store could change your life-meeting someone new that clicks, or encountering an old enemy that sends you careening into dark places you thought you’d escaped.

No matter what we’re doing in life, there are many ways to understand the meaning of certain moments, especially the accidental ones. This is also true with writing.You might start a piece about a lovely memory-a summer day when you picked blackberries, then find yourself writing about a scary man or a tornado or your dead grandmother, or the time you were punished for breaking a dish-memories you’d forgotten for years. Some writers feel a little bit crazy or like they are doing it “wrong” when they begin in one place and end up in another, especially when they find one of their darker stories sitting down at the writing table like an uninvited guest.

The “accidental” writing is an opportunity, if you choose to view it that way, a chance to look deeply into our souls, a chance to heal and soothe old wounds. But we need to be willing to serve the dark guest at the table, to ask questions whose answers we are not sure we want to hear. After a while, you may find yourself writing in your gratitude journal. Writing can turn us around like that.

If you sit down and write for 10 minutes, not stopping to answer the phone or listen to the whispers of the inner critic, you can create a space for something new to happen. You might think you know what you plan to write, but what if something different comes out? Can you take a chance to let some other part of yourself step in and express the “something else” of your life?

You could begin with: “I remember…” Another writing session: “The best day of my life was…” And, “I wish it had been different…”

As you can see by these prompts, you begin to create an open space where you discover stories and yourself. Allow your hand, your mind, and the story to lead you to an accidental encounter with yourself, with the truths of your life.

One of the foremost researchers in the area of writing as healing, Dr. James Pennebaker says, “Story is a way of knowledge.” This is a very exciting idea, because it means that we don’t have to know what we are going to say. That we can count on the greater wisdom of our deeper self to take us where we need to go. Just as on that car trip, we can find ourselves in unexpected places. Don’t worry about getting stuck. if you keep writing, you will find your way to where you need to go, accidentally enlightened by your writing and your stories.

Write for ten minutes today, and discover yourself!

I LOVE this idea! I’m kinda crazy about Linda Joy Meyers, too, though we haven’t met. She’s been a therapist for 27 years, and she’s used this experience, as well as her MFA in creative writing from Mills College, to conduct workshops on healing and writing. And this work has influenced her ground-breaking book, The Power of Memoir.

Inside its pages, you’ll find the steps you need to take to write your healing story. Steps like “Understanding Your Reasons for Writing” or “Organizing the Narrative Arc.” But you’ll also find answers to questions about publishing, and you’ll read stories from workshop writers.

But what I like best about this powerful how-to book is that you don’t need to write a 60,000 word memoir to appreciate what Linda Joy has to say. Maybe you just want to write a 1,000 word essay. But you want to get to the heart of your writing. The Power of Memoir can lead you there, 10 minutes at a time.

Okay, so now you’re wondering how you can get your hands on this book, right? Leave a comment. In fact, you can leave a comment anytime through Sunday, ’cause I know some of you don’t get a chance to stop by till the weekend. Monday morning, I’ll draw a name from the comments and some lucky writer will get The Power of Memoir. Oh, and leave me some contact info…either an email or your blog address, so that I can let you know you’ve won.

And finally, just so you know, no one paid anybody here at the Hall of Fame. I received a lovely copy of The Power of Memoir, which I’m giving away. So there.

Memoir or Not with Elizabeth Kirschner


Memoirs are hot! But sometimes, they’re not.

How do you know when you should publish that sizzling memoir, or lock your possible best-seller in a vault and throw away the key? Elizabeth Kirschner, author of My Life as a Doll, is here today to share her thoughts on this very subject. Let’s see how she settled this sticky situation…

RIP: Why I Buried My Memoir

It is here, at Sea Cabin Retreat, in Kittery Point, ME where I wrote and revised my memoir, Walking With Winter, and it is here where it will remain. I have written R.I.P. on its cover and have given it, as I have other manuscripts, what I call a pet funeral.

Why, one might wonder, am I so willing to put aside work I labored over, quite literally, around the clock for months on end? Why not give the universe Walking With Water, which is about childhood abuse, mental illness, and very much as well with recovery, when I know it would help heal other trauma survivors?

The answer is simple-my memoir would devastate my large, extended family, all of whom, except for my siblings, have no clue about the abuse. Even what my siblings know is sketchy and that is the way I want it to be because with knowledge comes pain.

So why did I go undergo the marathon it took to churn out the memoir? Because, because, because when I embarked upon the project I had every intention of publishing it. I wanted that larger audience, believed fully that telling my story would help others, especially the victims of trauma, their families and caretakers.

In the end, my greatest accomplishment is not about this manuscript, but the triumph of my survival. Writing the memoir, when all is said and done, was my finishing school. It put me on a high learning curve as I meditated upon, often during long walks by the sea with my dog, the varying ways in which my experiences have impacted my life.

In short, Walking With Winter was my boot camp, and during the rigorous work of writing it I finally freed myself from the ghosts of Mother and Father who had ungodly power from the grave. It was a gift I gave myself and the experience, for me, was made complete by letting one person bear witness to it.

Together we spent two days reading the entire manuscript aloud, which was one of the most empowering things I’ve done in my life. When the last word hit space, we simultaneously hit the floor and screamed a scream which was both full of unholy horror and a halleluiah. That moment was my grande finale. It needed no applause and may the memoir and my memories rest in peace, alas, at last, but I wonder how many others have written R.I.P. on their memoir for better or worse.

-Elizabeth Kirschner

I’m always impressed with the courage of those who tackle harrowing life experiences in a memoir. But here, Elizabeth gives us an option to consider. Sometimes, the writing of a memoir is enough. Thank goodness, she doesn’t feel that way about her poetry!

She’s published three collections of poetry, including Twenty Colors, Postal Routes, and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees with Carnegie Mellon University Press. Most recently, she’s added a fourth book of poetry, My Life as a Doll, with Autumn House Press.

Elizabeth has also collaborated with many composers and has two CDs, both from Albany Records, that feature her work. In The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons, she set her own poetry to Robert Schumann’s gorgeous love song cycle. And in New Dawn, Carson Cooman has set to music eight of her poems. (How totally cool is that?) Elizabeth studies ballet and lives on the water at Sea Cabins Retreat in Kittery Point, ME.

I’ll bet that’s a fine place to write. And Elizabeth pens some mighty fine writing, doesn’t she? I’m sure she’ll be dropping in today if you’d like to ask a question about memoirs, poetry, or even Kittery Point. Thanks, Elizabeth for stopping by!