Blood Connections

I’ve been thinking about family lately. Both kinds. The ones forcibly tied to you by the accident of shared blood and DNA, and the ones you choose.

I have three sisters. One shares my DNA and two don’t. But all three are my greatly loved sisters. I also have a couple sisters-in-law that I’m kind of partial to (don’t let it go to your heads, girls). They are family, with no thought on my part as to whether DNA figures into it or not.

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Vegas sisters

Las Vegas Sisters

I have uncles, aunts, and cousins that I’ve never met and wouldn’t recognize if they passed me on the street. I have some friends who are deeply ingrained in my heart that I can’t imagine life without.

And just recently I’ve found that there’s even more family out there I’ve never met. Adoption brings a whole new equation to that phrase ‘aunts, uncles, and cousins’. My mother was adopted at birth and I’ve just recently found some history on her biological mother, and some first cousins.

June Davis (mom young)

Mom with adopted great aunt and uncle. Oddly, mom and the great-aunt look alike.

Do those new relatives matter?

Not much in the grand scheme of things, personally. I’d like to find out medical history. You know, when your doctor says ‘does your family have a history of…’ and you have to sit there with a blank look on your face. It would be nice to be able to answer instead. But overall, the people who would have been dramatically impacted by this discovery are of past generations. My mother, who longed to find blood family all her life, died before so much of this was available online.

It obviously meant a lot to her. That connection of shared blood. I know it means a lot to some of my family.

But me? Shared blood is just shared chemicals. That DNA bit doesn’t mean someone is entitled to love, as everyone knows. It doesn’t mean I have an obligation to someone simply because we’re ‘family’. It doesn’t mean there’s any connection.

And yet…

I was in Scotland and Denmark in July. I’ve been to Scotland before and love the area of Caithness. In particular, the towns of Dunnet and Thurso where I have friends. It was so, so wonderful to be back there. Not just seeing my good friends, but being there. The northern and western coasts just simply fill my heart. I took more photos there than anywhere else on the trip. No, I’m not going to slide off into a tangent on inherited memories and ancestors and unexplainable connections to land. That’s not me.


Dunnet Head

And yet…

I found all the information on my mother’s biological mother and those assorted new relatives because I did a DNA test. I put a great deal of thought and discussion into the pros and cons, and ultimately decided I wanted that medical history.

One of the things that came back was an almost 80% match to Scotland. No surprises there. All you have to do is look at my hair and freckles to know there’s either Scotland or Ireland in there somewhere. But this test was more specific than that. Not just Scotland, but the western coast of Scotland. Exactly where I was a couple months ago, madly taking almost five hundred pictures. Little did I know.


There were no DNA results that tied any miniscule part of me to Denmark.

I took less than ten photos in Denmark.

Of course that could all be because I live in the mountains. High country will always be my spiritual home. Rain and fog and low clouds. Trees and, yes, okay, heather is kind of nice. I love the mystery of the mountains when their craggy tops are hidden and you can imagine anything you want walking up there, free of crowds and traffic.


But who knows. Maybe there’s something to that DNA thing after all. Not enough for me to change how I value and choose my family.

But maybe enough to change how I look at a landscape.

Or how I move through the stories tied to the land.


Novels and Scotch

My son came up for dinner this evening, and wandered around with me afterwards while I watered roses.


He talked about a short story he wrote, that he would like to turn into a novel. But he doesn’t think there’s enough to make a novel-length story, even though he has a fully developed world, lots of characters, and an extensive plot outline.

We talked about what he doesn’t have, to flesh out something that would translate to a novel.

First, there’s not enough sub-plots. The major plot line, like I said, is done well. But without sub-plots to hold it up, the main plot will sag, most likely about mid-way through. The lack of sub-plots is almost always the reason a first draft dies about halfway in.

Second, there’s no conflicts between the characters. Either external, or internal. He realized that these characters all get along too well.

And third, in a short story it’s okay for the good guys to win the battle. In a novel, it won’t work to have the good guys winning every single battle as they make their way forward to the final scenes. So they need to lose, and there has to be reasons for them to lose, and ways for them to learn and continue.

Arthur Luke 3

A boy and his dog, many years ago.

While we talked, I remembered one of my favorite mysteries, that I never did anything with. I loved the premise, loved the characters, really loved the setting. I finished it, beta readers loved it. But there were lots of problems.

Not enough characters, so the antagonist was obvious. Not enough sub-plots to carry the novel. Predictable battles. Sound familiar? Sure did to me, even if the genres were completely different.

I’d like to go back and edit that story, but it needs more than just editing. It needs serious revision work. I’ve tried that a couple times but wow, what a task. It might be simpler to just take the premise, hang on to a few characters, and rewrite the whole thing.

Thinking about that story also reminds me of a funny conversation. The foundation of that mystery is a cask of Highland Park single malt scotch. I’m partial to Highland Park even though I don’t like scotch, because the distillery is on the Orkney Islands and I have friends in northern Scotland. That’s the main reason I chose that scotch.

My husband collects single malt scotch. So as I wrote the mystery, I would go to him and say, ‘I need a whisky with a peat flavor’ or ‘I need something that’s fruity’ and he would supply me with way more information on scotch then what ended up in the story. Plus he’d have to extensively sample, to find just the right one to meet my needs.

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Also from several years ago.

When it came time to do our taxes that year, our accountant told me we could write off the scotch my husband bought as research for the story. I thought that was a bit farfetched and didn’t believe the CPA.

My husband, on the other hand, decided the mystery needed to become a series. Set in different distilleries that we would have to visit for research.

I guess one of these days I’ll have to rewrite that mystery and create that series. Just to keep the scotch flowing and the husband happy.