Local lore claims they used to call the “girls of morning,” snakes. These are the women who sexually serviced the miners and loggers when the Silver Valley bustled with economic prosperity; when logs choked the broad Coeur D’Alene River and hard-rock miners extracted silver by the ton.
The prevalence of prostitutes in old west mining towns would suggest the service was a necessity.
Enaville, Idaho is no longer a town proper. It lacks a post office and no longer sees to the needs of loggers and miners. By 1954 the town’s old 1880s inn built of local timbers transitioned from a worker’s hotel to a sportsman’s bar and café. It is said that the new owners discovered a light switch upstairs to illuminate two bulbs in the skull of a bull mounted among elk and moose antlers outside in the apex of the building.
Red lights. The western invitation to red light service. Call girls. Soiled doves. Ladies of the evening. Girls of the morning. Whores. Snakes.
You can still see the bull skull on the tourist hot spot now known to foodies across the Inland Pacific Northwest as the Snake Pit. Unless you read the history inside, you might not even know this is Enaville. If you read history and absorb the wealth of memorabilia mounted throughout the timbered restaurant, you’ll find that those who came here over the years sought comforts of home – food, drink, stories, a place to sit, a place to warm up or cool down, companionship.
I had no idea I was headed to Enaville in my home on wheels. My camp trailer is something like a first flat, a place you need for shelter and sleep, yet a place you know is temporary. Like many first flats, this one is fraught with problems – the roof leaks, the lights don’t work and many previous breaks were hastily fixed with systems that baffle us. We have given up electricity and running water to have privacy and a semi-wilderness setting. A fair trade for the extra work it requires of us to meet daily needs.
Along a broad and rocky river, I’m re-writing my novel Miracle of Ducks. Day dreaming about my characters and plotting requires no electricity and flows with the river at my feet. If I charge up my laptop at the Carnegie Library 20 miles away or during breakfast at the Snake Pit, I can get two hours of writing time on battery. My first two hours revealed a solution to my biggest revision concern – I can rewrite my story to add a new plot crisis and setting change. It seems daunting to take a finished and professionally edited novel manuscript and decide to change it all up. Crazy, right?
Yet it feels more and more sane each day, as does living homeless. What I miss most is a home office. A camp office hardly suffices and the time limits of officing in an old mining town are frustrating, but our camp home is free. Places to park our camp trailer average $20 a night – that’s over $600 a month. Our idea to travel and stay with friends or family is hindered by the repairs needed to the trailer, cost of gas and the appointments I have set up for Todd through the VA system. We have two today.
And when you are homeless, needs are expensive. Hot showers at RV resorts cost $5 or more. Drinking water and ice for fresh food is another $5 per day. If you eat out instead, meals add up quickly. But you have to buy gas, water or food to use a flushing toilet. Bathrooms are rarely “public.” And we Americans are griping about which genders use which stalls? Give me a break! A greater issue is that of restroom access to those who are not paying customers. In other words, if you are homeless, it will cost you to empty your internal plumbing no matter what gender you identify with.
My current situation begs the question – why do necessities feel like luxuries? I can see how a man working hard in the isolated wilderness with few comforts of home would have needed sexual companionship. And the women? They needed a secure bed, a chamber pot, food and human connection. Yes, they were exploited for their needs. And so were the men. The logging moguls and mining barons overworked and underpaid the men who needed work. Necessities are a blend of physical and psychological needs to create security and comfort.
However, my current situation feeds the flesh of my novel re-write. Let me share with you an analogy for revision from a brilliant academic writer. Writing is bones, muscles and flesh.
Bones build the story structure, the plot, the hero’s journey. That first draft is creating bones. When you finish, look at the bones first. Are you missing a femur or metatarsal? Do your bones need rearranging to fit the skeletal structure you intend? If you don’t get the bones right, nothing else you do will improve your story, no matter how brilliant your word choices or snappy your dialog.
Flesh is adding meat to the bones. Here’s where you let your brilliance and voice shine. You can give your bones curves or you can leave them spare. Flesh is your artistry. Flesh can be built up, reduced or re-appropriated. But your flesh will sag if your story doesn’t have good bones.
Skin is what we see, what catches the eye of the beholder. Yet, skin is where writers can spend too much time superficially on their novel. Grammar and spelling matters, but you need bones and flesh first. Have a healthy body and then work on healthy skin. And don’t worry about zits as you write. Think of those spots as adolescent growing annoyances. Once you have bones, flesh and skin, then you can treat the zits. Unless you are a confident dermatologist, take your manuscript to a professional editor.
Miracle of Ducks went through all phases, yet until this analogy, I agonized over how to change anything. It’s flesh work! Now I accept the scalpel, ready to cut and reform the story on its bones. Yes, I will need to make sure scars of such changes don’t show at the skin level and I’ll need my trusty Write Diva Editorial Dermatologist once again. But it will be worth the work. It will be a beauty!
One important change is that of setting. I worked on Miracle of Ducks while I lived in the Midwest and set it in my favorite Lake Superior fishing village. Then I returned to my native west. I also discovered that I have more to say about the west than the Midwest, and there’s a group for such writers – Women Write the West. By changing my setting, I can join that organization and not have to wait until I finish Rock Creek. I feel like my two novels now have a better point of connectivity despite being different genres. It’s a relief to me. And my character gets to experience a topic I can write personal essays about, thus bringing notice to me novel.
This is all worth the scalpel work.
And Rock Creek? The analogy makes me realize I’m still in the setting bones stage. I had a major breakthrough in November because of important historic research I discovered and thanks to Geoff Le Pard who explained possible explanation regarding a historic incident and court dispute. I have flesh, too, but I see where I have to straighten bones before I can stretch the flesh. That continues, too.
And flash fiction is a valuable tool in addition to being an interesting form. I hope you are benefiting from its use. Again, I’m struck by the diversity of applications and creative results week after week. Mobility might be challenged, but the ranch is open and will support writers in all quests to finish those creations we form from bones to flesh to skin. Thank you to all who ride here, as readers, commenters, riders and ranchers.
So what’s up with the luxury price on necessities? Why do I have to buy a coffee to wipe my…you get the idea…? Water? Really? I have to BUY drinking water? What happened to public bubblers? The VA will help “re-home” us in a transitional motel or shelter or apartment. It might take 90 days or two years. Thanks, but no thanks…I do have a rental September 1. But what if I didn’t? 90 days to get into a shelter? No wonder Deborah Lee’s character is camping in a vacant house!
And trying to find a job? It’s a full-time job trying to secure needs. Some homeless people buy a membership at a club just to shower. Some use warm water filched from gas station bathrooms in water jugs and go to a secluded area to bathe. And many agencies won’t help you without a “valid address”! And if you do have an income, as I do, well forget help! We found out the HUD Dash program meant to help homeless veterans takes qualifying for…I disqualify us as a paid writer, no matter that rent is 75 percent of what I make. And renting has nothing to do with my ability to pay. I paid. Every month. I went without many comforts just to pay rent.
The problem is with those renting. The reason veterans can’t get housed when they do qualify for HUD Dash is because landlords won’t honor the qualifying letter. It’s a free market; they don’t have to rent to a qualifying homeless vet. With the growing Airbnb craze where any home owner can rent to the market of vacationers, rentals are diminishing and evictions are on the rise. Those who NEED security and elements of home (electricity, water, plumbing) are left outside because someone else can afford to take his family on vacation and pay triple the rates a long-term renter pays. Yet, Airbnb provides income for struggling homeowners, and I have friends and family who use this service to supplement their income in a difficult economy.
It’s so messed up, even I’m beginning to think I should elect Trump. But no, I won’t go so low. I’m not ignorant despite dirty nails. I love my friends and family – my love knows no gender, color, religion or even political stupidity. I love people. I just wish more Americans who were in power or had the power to help others loved people, too. Not just the ones they want to pass along privilege to. White privilege? Oh, I could laugh and say bunk. But it exists, and even homeless, I’m more privileged than persons of color or on the margins of society.
Wake up, America, Land of the Free. Wake up World. People matter. If you cast aside your humanity for what privilege you have, you are no longer human. No matter your own situation, be kind to others, even to the jerks who vote carelessly or out of fear; even to those who cast the shadows of fear. Feed your enemy a sandwich; give him a free glass of water. Remind him than humanity is not a privilege and all humans have it until they deny it. Don’t let anyone dehumanize you. And write. It’s where your voice lives and your heart beats. Bleed upon that page and make a difference in your corner of the world.
June 29, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that explores human needs. Not all needs are basic. Why would others put a price on basic needs, like water? Or perhaps you want to explore why a person might develop a need in order to survive a situation (like a miner needing the companionship of a prostitute). Think about needs and not having access or being in control of them.
Respond by July 5, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Plucking Boyfriends Like Fruit by Charli Mills (from Rock Creek)
“Your boyfriend was looking for you,” Nancy Jane announced when she entered the new cookshack at Rock Creek.
Sarah paused in sweeping. “He’s not my boyfriend. I’m his accountant.”
Nancy Jane laughed and plucked a plum from the bowl on the table. “I meant the other one!”
“Mr. Hickok! He’s certainly not my boyfriend.” She caught the plum Nancy Jane tossed to her.
“Sit down, Sarah. Eat a piece of sweet fruit when you have the chance, and consider how your needs could be met by having lots of boyfriends. Accountant to one, friend to another. It’s called security.”
Conflicting Needs by Charli Mills (from Miracle of Ducks)
“Ike, I need you to stay home!” Danni clicked her heels across the kitchen linoleum to fetch her apron. Cook. She had to calm her mind and if she couldn’t disappear into a research basement, she’d pound dough for calzones.
“Look, Danni, they need me over there.” Ike leaned against the refrigerator.
Danni snorted, measuring flour. “They have trained soldiers.”
“That’s the problem, Danni, they need help with training. I can’t sit back and do nothing. We need the money.”
“Get a job, Ike! A normal job. One without bullets!”
“You don’t get it. I need to do this!”