Author Archives: Ana McCracken

Why I Drove to Minneapolis to see Author Dani Shapiro

People ask me, “why Iowa,” when they learn that Ed, Avy and I left San Francisco earlier this year. Their faces scrunch and I smile. Why not? People are friendly here. Friends offer to pick up your paper when your delivery man can’t get with the on-vacation program. Neighborhood kids play together calling out to one another gleefully on the streets. Neighbors offer to mow your lawn and shovel your snow. There are four seasons. Trails to ride bikes. Woods to hike. Vast roads through cornfields to drive. I can wax poetic. 

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Coming Soon…

  • What it was like writing a draft memoir in Ellen Sussman’s Novel/Memoir in a Year class with no clear idea of what I was writing about.

    Ellen and me 1:8:2017

    I drove through pelting rain to turn my draft in to Ellen a day early

  • A writing tip that embellished my writing from Hope Edelman’s, Memoir: Step by Step workshop

    Hope Edelman Class Gals

    Hope’s fearless writers. All of us traveled to Madeline Island, which is situated in Lake Superior. We had a marvelous time.

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Avy Tales 2016 – I’m A Happy Aussie

Dear Readers!

Last fall, I spent a lot of time hanging out in Ames, Iowa, with Mommy and Daddy while they attended board meetings, and football and basketball games. They left me, of course, to “watch the house.” “What house?” you might ask. “I thought you lived in San Francisco, Avy.”


Mommy and Daddy are big Cyclone Fans

Two-and-a-half years ago, Mommy and Daddy purchased a house perched on a hill in Ames. From our backyard, I can see the back of the Jack Trice Football Stadium scoreboard, the Iowa State University Alumni Center, and C.Y. Stephens’s auditorium. And if I were a taller dog, I might be able to see a corner of Hilton Coliseum, fondly referred to as, “the home of Hilton Magic“. The house was purchased on a whim in 2014, because Mommy and Daddy spend a lot of time in Ames at the university participating on various boards. They remodeled our 1951 three-bedroom ranch with an unfinished basement, and falling down screened in porch, into a two-bedroom, two-bath, with library office, finished basement, and enclosed garden room, as Mommy likes to call it. Chicago friends have visited, and so have my future Chicago Aussie friends I can’t wait to meet, Darby and Baron. Everyone reportedly loves it here. You too should visit Ames.


Discussing the flight plan from Ames to Angel Fire with Daddy

You might wonder what Ames, Iowa has to offer a dog born on a ranch south of San Jose, California, and her puppy parents? A lot. The best 10-acre puppy park in the world is here in Ames where I run around gleefully chasing balls and Frisbees. There are human parks galore that allow dogs on leashes. Mommy and I explored several of them last fall. Daddy rents a hanger at the Ames Municipal Airport, and he and I enjoy easy take offs and landings on our trips to and from Ames to Angel Fire or vice versa. While in Ames, Mommy hangs out on campus at the Parks Library writing, and she walks around incognito in her yoga togs and sunglasses, pretending she’s a student again. Traffic is light, and when Mommy drives we take back streets exploring neighborhoods while running our errands at the UPS Store, ACE Hardware, Target and such. People talk to one and other in line at the Hy-Vee grocery store, wave at us in our neighborhood and driving down the road, and stop for long chats when Mommy and I are out walking the streets in our ‘hood. People call this, Iowa Friendly. Mommy loves it. And being in Ames and Iowa, the Midwest in general, makes Mommy happy. And that’s a good thing.


Out bundled up for a frigid walk in the ‘hood last October with winter enthusiast, Mommy

On the frontier front in Angel Fire, New Mexico, I love the real grass that was installed last summer when Mommy and Daddy landscaped the backyard. The landscaper even put in a wooden trough fountain for me to climb in and drink from. I’ve heard Mommy and Daddy whispering among themselves at how wonderful it is to have grass. Grass means I don’t track mud into the house as much as I used to after I gallivant around the yard herding ground squirrels and keeping marauders like elk and coyotes out of my fenced-in yard. Mommy and Daddy also built a labyrinth together between the upper and lower ponds. Well, it was Mommy’s idea. The landscapers, and the gentleman who maintains our back-forty laid the foundation for it, and then Daddy placed most of the stones for the Vision Quest à la Chartres™ design while Mommy was off visiting relatives in Deutschland—driving a reported 160 km/hr on the Autobahn.


The plot of land leading down to and around the labyrinth now looks like a park. It’s glorious with two Adirondack chairs to sit in and stare off at the view, and a meditation bench. Some neighbors have walked the labyrinth, as did Labor Day Iowa visitors, Katie and Scott from Ames. But what was really special last fall was the Aspen leaves—an extravaganza of gold and orange. Daddy let me lead the way, me on my leash and he driving the ATV, on our daily forest tours of color. Fall is a glorious time in Angel Fire. You should come for a visit soon.

Now for the question I’m sure everyone reading my Avy Tales 2016 wants to ask. I’ll cut to the chase. The San Francisco pad is going on the market the day after Super Bowl Sunday. Daddy said three residences are too many. Mommy asked, which one costs the most? Taxes revealed what Mommy and Daddy suspected. Hasta la Vista San Francisco. We are sure to visit California because of family and friends, and because the cost of our former San Francisco property taxes were so high, it allows for “a lot” of nice hotel stays (alternating between staying down on the Peninsula for Mommy or in San Francisco for Daddy). As for me, while visiting California, I’ll stay in a home in the woods with Jim and Adrian, my fabulous puppy sitters in La Honda. Emotions are, of course, mixed on this decision in the Avy household, but everyone knows that there is no love lost for Mommy in leaving San Francisco. Daddy, the jury’s out. One thing is for sure, the three of us are keen on simplifying our life together, and making sure that in the end everyone is happy. In my opinion, I always win. Because wherever Mommy and Daddy are, as long as they are with me, I’m a happy Aussie. Arf! Arf!


Jet-setter, Avy


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I Talked My Memoir to Death—Now What?


My desk at the Mechanics Institute Patiently Awaiting My Return

This year, 2016, is the year I have committed to write. To goad myself into it, I signed up for best-selling author, Ellen Sussman’s Novel/Memoir in a Year class. I’ve studied writing with Ellen for years—since 2008 when I first met her at Kepler’s in Menlo Park, California. After her reading for the publication of Bad Girls—26 Writers Misbehave, she mentioned to the audience at Kepler’s that she taught classes in her living room at her then-home in Los Altos. Ellen inspires me. A passionate and gifted teacher of writing, she has spunk, and a dry sense of humor I attribute to Trenton, New Jersey where she grew up. As she signed my copy of Bad Girls, I begged myself into her ten-week novel critique class, even though I was writing a memoir. (more…)

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Letting My Writing Lie Fallow – By Harriet Chessman

Last June in my blog Life Happens, I berated myself for not writing by comparing myself to writers who write every day—no matter what. In the comments section, several writers wrote encouraging me to return to my writing. Author, Harriet Chessman also wrote: “I too can only write when my life has calmed and steadied. I’ve always been this way. I really feel that, in these times, I’m filling up with life. Or sometimes my metaphor is that I’m letting my lands lie fallow…”

Inspired by Harriet, I reached out to her and asked if she’d share more in my Authorly Advice blog. Thank you, Harriet for sharing your wisdom with my readers and me.

Harriet’s photo taken by Brigitte Carnochan

Thank you to the wonderful Ana McCracken for bringing me on board this website! I loved Ana’s blog post about what a challenge it can be to continue writing each day, especially in the face of something major happening in one’s life. I wrote her a comment about how I often let my writing lie fallow, and she suggested that I develop this comment into a post. So here it is!

I have always written best when I have felt ready to write. (more…)

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Mommy’s 2015 Gratitude List

HomePageAvyMeOh my! What a year Mommy had in 2015. If getting used to San Francisco wasn’t enough for her (you can read about it in my last Avy Tale), 2015 turned into a doozy. Mommy’s daddy died unexpectedly. Then Mommy slipped off the deck at our home in Angel Fire on October 7th. From that incident she was left with a broken tibia, fibula, and some other bone, now held together by 15 screws and a plate. I must say, through it all—the great purge and selling her daddy’s house with her brother and sister-in-law, getting used to San Fran on a scooter and crutches, two surgeries on her leg (more to come), Mommy’s general disposition on life isn’t too bad. While she has Debbie Downer tendencies, Mommy got the bright idea on New Years Eve to post 12 things she was grateful for in 2015 on Facebook before the clock struck midnight. She had the good sense to end the year on a high note. You go Mommy! Share your positivity publicly on social media.

Because I’m so proud of Mommy, I thought I’d share some highlights from her list. Edited, of course, from a Prolific Aussie’s Perspective. (more…)

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How Two Events Changed My Perspective on Life

Dave and I school

Walking to class at the Merz Schule in Stuttgart

When my mother dropped my brother and I off for our first day of school at the Merz Schule in Stuttgart, Germany in 1971, I was already able to recite the ABCs and to count from one to 10 in German. It seems I had an aptitude for the language, and within a year spoke it with a flawless Schwäbisch accent. (Stuttgart is located in southern Germany, Schwabenland.) Mom wasn’t pleased. High German was better. But Schwäbisch allowed me to slur over the genders die, der, “und” das, and to assimilate into school and the village of Vaihinghen-Rohr where we lived.

In 1973, my family moved to Peoria, IL. I was 13, and in the middle of a growth spurt. (more…)

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Mommy’s Splint Feels Good on My Back

Yesterday at lunch after cutting up an apple, Mommy let out a yelp.

“What,” Daddy asked concerned.

“I don’t know,” whimpered Mommy. “There’s a pain shooting down my thumb. I can’t move it. It feels like hundreds of needles pricking me.”

Ten Advils later, Daddy and I drove Mommy to Urgent Care in Taos this morning. Within an hour Mommy and Daddy, impressed by the professionalism of the Taos Urgent Care center, got into the car. Mommy holding her hand up as if waving, splint@lunchand with a referral to Dr. Chun, a hand specialist in Santa Fe.

Prognosis: Seems the nurse practitioner (NP) exclaimed, “I’m concerned,” when she came back into the room Mommy and Daddy were waiting in after reviewing the X-rays. On the referral she wrote sprain, but in front of the computer screen she pointed out to Mommy and Daddy what looked like a floating bone next to the joint and collateral ligaments. And NP told them a funny story about how in olden times people got a similar injury from snapping the heads of rabbits with their thumbs. I’d love to do that to the bunnies in the pasture here at Thistlewood Ranch where we live near Angel Fire, but I don’t have opposing thumbs.

hand diagramMommy reported that NP said, “It’s called Game Keepers Thumb. And you can’t see it (Incase you don’t know, X-rays don’t show ligaments), but I think maybe the ligament pulled a bit of bone away. Maybe a cause for alarm, perhaps surgery, sometimes people never get their strength back with this kind of injury. What do you do for a profession,” she asked Mommy?”

“Writer,” Mommy told the NP. “Ohhhh,” NP said. Even with this bleak prognosis, I could tell Mommy thought the NP was competent, which is something for Mommy. She’s picky about practitioners. Then Mommy said the NP sighed deeply when NP asked if Mommy writes longhand. I know Mommy’s flummoxed cuz she saw famous author, Natalie Goldberg at a SOMOs literary event at The Harwood a week ago. Natalie wrote Writing Down the Bones, a book about writing at least three pages long hand daily as writing calisthenics. Mommy started doing that again after she saw Natalie, along with meditating after she wrote. Mommy’s been crabby of late, and I’d noticed a shift in her, how her renewed writing practice (she used to do this way back when before I was born.) was bringing back a twinkle to her eyes.

me dictataing to mommyI’m sure Mommy is wondering how a bum thumb fits into her already delayed by life circumstances (Mommy’s Daddy’s untimely death in May, and the great purge of his house that followed.) writing plan? Mommy’s writing goal for the year was to rewrite the draft of her memoir, but that is laying in a heap on the bench in her office. I feel bad for Mommy, although Mommy always finds a way to rise to the occasion. Case in point: I ‘m dictating this Avy Tale to her, slowly I might add, while she hunts and pecks out the letters on her key board. I must admit while I’m sad for Mommy, I’m glad for me. That splint sure feels good when Mommy rubs it up and down my fur-coated backside. Arf,


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The Wisdom of Not Talking Your Book to Death!

Coming SoonPeter CoyoteOn the day I confided to a friend I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue writing my memoir, Peter Coyote made a comment in an interview with Phil Bronstein at the Commonwealth Club that left me excited to start writing again. But the next day as I considered my enthusiasm, I pondered this: had I talked my book to death?…

While you wait for the next edition of my Writer’s News newsletter and the answer to my burning question, run to your nearest bookstore (sorry, I’m old school) and buy Peter Coyote’s latest book, The Rainman’s Third Cure: An Irregular Education.

Authors, give a shout if you’d like to be a featured author in a forthcoming Authorly Advice column. Qualifications: You’re a published author—in a book or an anthology— and you’d like to be interviewed about your thoughts on the joys, challenges, and the intricacies of being a writer.

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Look on the Bright Side of Life

AvyIceCreamConeThis morning I was scrolling through my Avy Tales reminiscing about my life. I like to do that from time to time, because I’m proud of my prolific-ness, something Mommy likes to brag about. She adores my spry sense of humor and thinks I would have made the perfect cover photo for the Animal Minds National Geographic issue in the 2007. Alas! I wasn’t born yet. As I read my tales, I was dismayed to realize I hadn’t blogged since December of last year. I blame this on a lot going on. (Note: we writers like to blame not writing on things like chasing ground squirrels into their holes or waiting for Mommy to share her ice cream cone.) Things going on: Mommy and Daddy moved me to a condo in San Francisco last December. And then Mommy’s daddy got sick, and died in May. Mommy blogged about that, but what she hasn’t blogged about is how our move to San Francisco has affected her and me. (more…)

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