Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP......... #3 on the Top List for books on rural life!

Was delighted to learn that our anthology, ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP, just released officially in June, reached #3 on amazon's Top List of books published on "rural life" and country living!

It's been a great journey.....from pitching this story over 2 1/2 years ago to the editor from Globe Pequot/Two Dot, at a Women Writing the West writers' working with 40 women from all over on memoirs and stories they had about their lives. The book also features over 20 photographs.

A wonderful collection -- some selections funny, others poignant. Something for everyone!

I'll share here one of my contributions to the anthology, entitled "Birth." I wrote it just a couple years into our marriage, when I had to help my husband with a young cow struggling to give birth.....

Gail L. Jenner

“Oh, Doug, is it going to be all right?”
“I don’t know. It don’t want to come. Maybe the calf is turned.” My husband pulled off his long-sleeved shirt and dipped his hands into the bucket of soapy water before turning to her. His hands entered easily, but the cow resisted when he pushed his arms in up to the elbows. “Come on, Mama.”
As the cow strained against the nylon halter I held taut, I swallowed the bile that burned my throat. At the same time, a series of groans rose up out of her throat, then her legs, shaking uncontrollably, gave up beneath her swollen body. She dropped to the straw with an ominous thud.
“Is the calf turned the right way?” My words, barely spoken, tinkled like coins in the empty barn. I dropped the end of the halter. This cow wasn’t going anywhere.
Doug hesitated, brows drawn together, tongue moving across chapped lips. “The head’s okay, but one leg don’t seem to be.”
“But will it live?”
He grunted, trying to wipe his chin against his shoulder. “Not unless we get it out soon.” He withdrew his hands and stood for a moment. He glanced up at me. “We'll have to pull it.”
With bloodied fingers, he picked up the length of chain he'd dragged out of the pickup earlier. The links of the mechanical stretcher clanked noisily.
I frowned as he circled and fastened one end of the chain around a small pair of hooves barely protruding from the young cow’s enraged cavity. Still down and panting, she twisted her head back until that the white sockets of her eyes bulged.
I held my protest. I knew Doug was doing all he could.
“When I start to pull,” he ordered, handing me one end of the chain, “make sure it don't slip off.”
The hard links rattled as Doug pulled on the lever – once, twice; the sound sent chills down my back, reminding me of fingernails scraping against a chalkboard.
Doug yanked on the pulley again. “Hold it steady!”
The chain grew taut, but the calf didn't budge. The cow’s belly ballooned with another contraction and she gasped.
I shrank back as she bawled again. “Oh, poor Mama,” I whispered. Why was life such a struggle?
Disgusted, Doug dropped the pulley contraption and shoved his hands back through the slimy opening, leaning forward to negotiate a better hold on the buried calf. Pearls of sweat trailed down his lean cheeks and they shimmered in the lopsided beams of amber light provided by his old pickup’s headlights.
He scowled as he probed and prodded, pushed and pulled.
Night finally edged in, the darkness filling the barn like spilled ink. Dinner hour long forgotten, I could not have moved away from the young mother even if I’d wanted to.  I was still new to marriage and this ranching life, and I hadn’t realized how tenuous life could be.
“Hey!” Doug interrupted my thoughts. “Give me that hammer and chisel.”
“Oh,” I groaned, reaching for the tools he had brought – just in case. Then I turned away, unable to watch. Only in impossible situations did a farmer or vet choose to split a young cow’s pelvis.
Hopefully it would heal.
“I have to,” Doug whispered. I nodded, touched by his attempt to ease my discomfort.
The hammer hit dully; the job was done. Throwing the tools aside, he moved swiftly. He reached for the calf's hooves and tugged. Like a soft ripe banana, the bloody body of the bald-faced calf oozed out onto the damp straw.
Dropping to his knees, my husband wiped the afterbirth from the calf's nose and tongue, but the tongue dangled like a fat pink tube sock, and its eyes stared blankly into the empty night.
Taking a quick, deep breath, Doug pressed his mouth over the calf’s. Sealing both nostrils, he blew breath after breath into the limp body.
I waited, tears slipping unnoticed down my cheeks.
Time passed cruelly.
Finally Doug leaned back and frowned. His eyes reflected my fear. “Too late. Too damn late.”
No! I took a step forward. You have to live. You can’t die. I held my breath. I felt Doug exhale slowly, but he avoided my glance.
And the cow, exhausted, lay, panting, her head flopped over in the straw as if she'd turned away from the awful sight.
Doug dragged the calf aside, his own face dark with unspoken disappointment. Then he returned to the cow.
He rested one palm lightly on her hip, but she didn't move as he inspected her and cleaned her off; neither did she flinch when he gave her an injection of antibiotic from the small black bag he always carried with him.
But I couldn’t stop the tears. Turning slowly, I looked out at the stars scattered like fool’s gold across the black dome of sky. Life. Death.
I turned back to the young cow.
Doug was massaging her back and shoulders, mindless of the cold air against his wet, stained arms and hands, compassion written across his weather-stained features. “I'm sorry, old gal,” he whispered. 
Slowly he coaxed her to her feet and pulled off the halter. She trembled, but seemed to gather her strength in the next moments.
It was then his glance trapped mine.
I winced.
The cow bawled.
He smiled tentatively. There would be another birth, his eyes said.
Perhaps another death, I wanted to retort.
Perhaps. But always, life prevails. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP has officially been released! I’m so thrilled….and so proud of the 40+ women who participated in this venture. It was a book I have envisioned for many years and features both known and unknown writers, many of whom declared, “I can’t write!”

But our collected stories are here and already the book is listed #25 on the list of books related to RURAL LIFE on -- and it’s only been available for a couple weeks.

As an introduction to the anthology, I’m posting the Introduction to the book here. It was part of the pitch I gave to the editor at Two Dot/Globe Pequot more than 2 years ago. She loved the concept and worked with me through the development of what would be included or discarded with energy and tenacity. I’m so grateful to Erin Turner, our editor. The pitching process took a couple of months, UNTIL I settled on the title of the book – ANKLE HIGH AND KNEE DEEP. Funny, the power in a title; when I wrote Erin and suggested it, she immediately wrote back: “That’s it! We got it now!”

“Farming seems easy when your plow is a pencil and you are a thousand miles from the corn field.”  ~  Dwight Eisenhower  
            Life is all about the learning, and the “family farm” is a great schoolhouse. AnkleHigh and Knee Deep represents what 40+ rural/farm women have learned while standing in or stepping out of mud, manure, and other “offal.” It is a collection of entertaining and inspirational essays that offers a unique perspective on love, marriage, parenting, relationships, loss, and other universal issues. These women’s connection to the land and to the people and animals in their lives is documented here.            
            Concepts that the general public has now adopted, words like sustainability and renewable/recyclable, come to us directly from the life of a farmer or rancher. Working within a landscape that can change with the seasons or alongside the forces of nature that demand commitment and sacrifice develops deep character; interestingly, the word “character” comes from the Greek word meaning “to chisel.” That describes perfectly what living and working in an often harsh physical environment does to the human soul.
            Several of the best lessons I’ve learned have come from forty-two plus years spent on our fifth-generation ranch:
            *Sometimes the mud and muck gets ankle deep, but it can always be washed off.
            *You’ve got to plant the seeds before there’s anything worth harvesting.
            *Waiting is time well spent. After winter comes spring, and after spring rains comes the summer harvest.
            *Never think anything is not worth saving; sometimes it’s just the odd piece of baling wire that keeps things from falling apart.
            *Don’t be in a hurry; that’s when you run through fences or get stuck in ditches.
            *Always watch out for the soft places:  Anything that looks that good has got to be dangerous.
            *Don’t ignore the rotten apples. They can destroy the entire barrelful if overlooked.
            *Don’t be afraid of hard work and sweat. There’s nothing finer than a shower or warm fire after a day well spent.
            *Love your job. It’s what you do, all day, every day.
            *Just because a skunk is cute doesn’t mean he won’t stink!
            *Don’t look back: that’s when you find yourself belly up in a low spot.
            *Don’t hold onto trouble; you’ve got to spread the manure around in order to make it effective fertilizer.
            *Do things right the first time so you don’t have to do them twice.
            *Be willing to invest – not only money – but sweat and time. In the end you’ll have something worth keeping.
            *Out of the garbage heap grow the seeds you ignored.
            *Good fences make good neighbors; know what people’s boundaries are and learn to respect them.
            *To have a good garden, you’ve got to live in it; weeds take over quickly.
            *Weaning time can’t be ignored; there’s a right time to let go.
            *Most of the time there’s no choice:  Success requires frequent sacrifice and persistence.    
            Though not a faith-based book, this collection of essays does underscore traditional values while providing an oftimes humorous look at life spent at the wrong end of a tractor, cow, or horse. Many reflect the lessons learned from a life centered around work, work, and more work. Trivial moments become significant moments of transition – revealing that maybe the destination isn’t as important as the road that leads there. 
            Maybe that’s why farmers eventually become philosophers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good NEWS!! Making the semi-finals in a script writing contest!!

Entering contests is a scary enterprise, but it's also a way to incorporate deadlines and reviews into your writing!

We just received word that our script (co-written with my 2 sisters), entitled MOVING MAMA, just placed as a semi-finalist in the Nashville Film and Screenwriting Competition! We did not make the final cut, but the competition totaled over 1500 scripts so we have something to be proud of.

This story is close to our hearts; in the vein of Grumpy Old Men, the story idea came from our relationship with MOM, especially as it changed because of her dementia as well as aging, in general. We wrote it as a "dramedy" (drama/comedy) because so many times the experiences were ones that, if you didn't laugh, you would cry. It's a story that many people these days can relate to. How many of us have aging parents to care for?

We spent more than five years on this script, rewriting and rewriting -- dissecting and revising -- and with each version we'd hope we were getting closer to the best story. Not long ago, we had a number of actors do a table read of the script. Wow- that was a fascinating process and gave us an opportunity to listen and 'watch' the story unfold as the actors interpreted our words! The actress portraying Mama was dynamite and that was especially exciting.

I certainly encourage any writer to enter a few contests. It does cause you to get your work into the hands of professionals and readers who can give you an honest response to your writing. Though not every criticism is one that you have to accept, every criticism provides insight. Like sandpaper, a good critique can cause you to scrape and sand and alter the technical and/or story elements that are not touching the audience (or reader!).

And of course, our project -- although rewritten more than 20 times -- is ongoing...still needs some more refinement!

But, like Mama -- we are ready for another new adventure :-)