Valet de Poulet – Some Thoughts on Self-Care (Guest: Bill Cameron)

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

A man and his chicken

It’s my pleasure to have my friend, Bill Cameron, join us today. I’m a big fan of his writing ever since I read his debut book LOST DOG. Bill was in my debut authors group for the International Thriller Writers (ITW) in 2008. That book featured an unlikely kleptomaniac anti-hero smart ass, Peter McKrall, with his unique voice that has always stuck with me. It launched Bill’s detective series that features Detective Skin Kardash.

I also follow/harass Bill on Instagram (@bcmystery) where he posts pics of his urban chickens. His daily videos and pics of his chicken drama are tons of fun and addictive, like his writing. Thanks for being our guest, Bill. Shake a tail feather and take it away.

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Much of my day was spent chasing chickens around my yard—an act of pure slapstick if there ever was one. Usually the ladies will come right up to me (probably because I often have treats), but today they sensed I had something else in mind. So they fled, making comical “bock-bock-bock” sounds as they went. I was no doubt equally comical, trying to both run and scoop up indignant chickens simultaneously. The result was a kind of bow-legged lurch with my hands flapping around near ground level. I may have fallen, but if you don’t have video you can’t prove anything.

My problem, or rather the chickens’ problem, was a possible infestation of scale mites. These awful little bugs burrow under the skin of a chicken’s legs, drink blood, and can wreak havoc on the well-being of a flock. (Do not image search for “chicken scale mites” unless you want to see true horror.)

Now, I say possible infestation because until the the situation gets really bad, the vermin are difficult to see. Some discoloration on the legs of our oldest hen, Hinie, was the only indication something might be amiss. That discoloration could also mean nothing at all, but since we don’t want the mites to get a leg-hold, I decided to address the problem proactively.

The treatment is basically Chicken Spa Day, which probably sounds nice to you and me. And in fact some chickens enjoy a soak in a warm bath and maybe a massage. (Do image search for “chicken taking a bath” for some entertaining pics.) Not so much our ladies. But I was not deterred.

In advance, I’d prepared a warm Epsom salts bath with a little mild soap. As I caught them, the girls each got a soak and a mild scrub to clean off any mite eggs or mites that hadn’t yet burrowed. Then, after they were dried off, I coated each hen’s legs with Bag Balm to suffocate the pestilent buggers who remained.

The good news is all went relatively as planned, though it took me more than an hour to get all four into the tub. (Farm Fact: chickens are fast.) The girls had a lot to say about it, probably in the form of chicken swearing. But the endeavor was a success—though I got wetter than the girls did.

So what does this shenanigan have to do with self-care?

Well, for me, taking care of chickens is a lot like writing. It can be rewarding, fun, challenging—and also a source of heartbreak. Right now we have four girls: the aforementioned Hinie, plus Cheeks, Tuchus, and Buns. (Do you detect a theme? Guess what!) Earlier this summer, one of our first hens, Fanny, died unexpectedly. And last year, two others (Moon and Patootie) turned out to be roosters, which are verboten within city limits. That’s the heartbreak side of things. But the rest of the time there’s the slapstick comedy and the reward of eggs and affection from smart, engaged birds who each have their own personality.

When I’m away from the keyboard, I find chicken care is a good way for me to get my “I’m not an incompetent buffoon” fix—something that can be rare in my writing life. On days when things seem especially dire (“wait, did you say there’s no market for that manuscript I spent five years on?”), time with the chickens can give me a sense of worth. They need me—for food and water and spa days, and for a lap or shoulder to cluck on. And I’m up to the task.

The day Hinie pooped on Bill’s head

But as with writing, there’s no guarantee of success. They might get scale mites, and while I’m confident I have that problem in hand, the next problem might cost me a beloved pet. In the morning, I might get a manuscript rejection, but in the afternoon I might get a fresh egg and a nuzzle from a bird named after a butt.

Chicken Tending (think about it) isn’t the only thing I do for self-care. But the ways it’s like writing helps me deal with the tribulations of my writing life. Sometimes we just need a little success. For me, chasing birds around the yard goes a long way toward keeping me grounded and believing I can make a difference—on the page as much as in the coop.

Fanny (RIP) & Hinie by Bill’s daughter, Jessica

FOR DISCUSSION:

What do you do to take care of yourself?

 

Bill Cameron BIO

Bill Cameron is the critically-acclaimed author of gritty, adult mysteries featuring Skin Kadash. His short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineKiller YearPortland NoirFirst ThrillsDeadly Treats, and West Coast Crime Wave. In 2012, his novel County Line received the Spotted Owl for Best Northwest Mystery. His latest book, the young adult mystery Property of the State, was named one of Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016: Teen.

Bill is currently at work on a mystery set in the Oregon High Desert.

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The Stories That Endure

curling iron

As you sit there, struggling to turn the great white blank in front of you into a short story, novel, or screenplay, take heart from these three words: people love stories. Yes, I know, writers are competing for entertainment dollars and time like never before, what with video games, televised sports, news, music, concerts…but nothing beats a good story. Good stories endure, whether true or otherwise.

Some of the best and longest enduring stories are urban legends. You’ve heard them, everything from the one involving the choking doberman to the women on the elevator at a Vegas hotel with the big guy and his big dogs. They are stories which are not true, but which endure. We often know not from where they come but come they do, repeatedly. This was true well before the internet became so prevalent. One of my favorites involves the little hamlet which I live near which the natives call “Columbus.” It happened in June 1993. The internet was there, but it was hard though not impossible to find. AOL was a big deal; an online bookseller called “Amazon” wouldn’t start up for another year. Many people didn’t have cell phones (they were often called “car phones”). That didn’t stop the following story from spreading throughout the city, sans benefit of news media coverage.

The story involved a local celebrity. He was — is — a merchant who sold his wares via a series of television commercials which featured a two word catchphrase which found itself being heard in conversation all over town. Indeed, he even used it at the wedding of at least one of his children. A story began to spread near the end of June that said entrepreneur had been jumping the marital fence and that his wife, when she found out about it, had applied a hot curling iron to his smaller brain, if you will. People who spread this story swore that they had learned it from a friend who who was a nurse’s aide at a local hospital where the now-repentant victim was recovering in a private room. The story was put to pasture, however, when the celebrity — not manifesting any damage — accompanied by his very attractive wife, were seen smiling and grinning, hand in hand, at the local July Fourth festivities. The local newspaper, which had never reported the rumor, debunked it after the fact. The commercials continued and all was well, with the businessman’s wife taking a role in the selling as well. I happen to know quite well a relative of the people involved in this story, and have been told that the first question people always ask is, “That curling iron story…is that true?”  The answer is always “No.”

Here is the rub, however. This same story with different principals cropped up across the country at about the same time from Pennsylvania to Oregon. In one city it involved a politician; in another, a well known doctor; here an attorney; there a restaurateur. The common elements were infidelity, commercials, and fame. These stories did not occur simultaneously, but rather over the course of a few weeks during that particular summer. And no, I never saw it mentioned in an AOL chat room, either. Someone playing telegraph, perhaps? How? It would be fascinating to try to trace its relatively modern incarnation, though well nigh impossible.

One more thing. The story did not originate in 1993, interestingly enough. As with most urban legends, it goes way back. Chaucer writes of a similar though not identical occurrence in “The Miller’s Tale,” and that story in turn may have been based in part on a persistent rumor involving a politician. As Douglas Adams has been credited with stating: “If you can think of it, it has already happened.”

So…for today’s exercise…tell us your favorite urban legend. Give us your own spin, if you wish. All that we ask is that you don’t use political stories. We all want to stay friends here. Thank you.

 

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