The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dewey Day in 1900

A little bidness first: I'm participating in an Authorpalooza next Saturday, February 5, at the Barnes and Noble in Sandy, Utah. This is at South Towne Center from 1-4 p.m. Apparently there will be 30 or 40 authors. My daughter Mary Ruth got really excited when she found out that the author of the Fablehaven books will be there. I asked the PR person at Cedar Fort if she could arrange for us to sit by him, because then we'd be mobbed!  H'mm. I'll bet it doesn't work that way.

Last week, we had Danny Price over for dinner. Danny turned 90 in December, and he's the nicest man. (We belong to the same ward in Wellington.) I had heard earlier that Danny joined the CCC when he was a young man of 16, living in Emery County, and I wanted to ask him some questions about it. We sat down after dinner to visit. I didn't take notes or have a recorder running, because I just wanted to get to know him better.

He worked with the soil/water conservation arm of CCC, farther west in the Utah deserts. Very interesting. It was just a free-ranging conversation. I've done a lot of interviewing, and have a good idea how to go about it. I know far better than to get locked into one agenda and not listen to whatever else surfaces, which might be far more interesting.

That turned out to be the case with Danny. He worked in the mines briefly, served in the Navy during WWII, but spent most of his working years as a surface supt. in the mining business. I got the feeling that Danny was a bit of a virtuoso with a bulldozer, and that kept him aboveground. Like many around here, Danny is of Welsh descent.

Then he said the magic words: Winter Quarters. Wow. The Winter Quarters mine was located in Pleasant Valley, about 45 minutes from where I live now. It was the Winter Quarters mine that blew up on May 1, 1900, leading to the deaths of 200 men and boys. Some know it as the Scofield Mine Disaster, named after the nearby coal camp (that's what mining towns were called). For years, that was the worst mine disaster in the U.S. In 1924, the Castlegate mine blew up, claiming the lives of 179 men and boys, the second worse disaster for years. You drive right by Castlegate on Highway 6, in Price Canyon.

Danny's grandfather owned a ranch in Pleasant Valley, and his own coal mine. Now, these were what I'd call "mom and pop" mines: just small mines providing for the family's coal needs, with some maybe shipped to market. Danny told me that mid morning on May 1, his father and grandfather were in the field. They heard an explosion. Danny's father made some remark about the miners starting early to celebrate Dewey Day. (The mines were to have closed at noon on May 1, for the celebration.)

His father said no, that was an explosion. They went toward the Winter Quarters mines (there were four shafts, two of which fatally connected), and ended up taking bodies out of the mines. They had to wait until the afterdamp settled (deadly combinations of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen), and then they went to work.

Danny said his father told him that when they went into the mine where the afterdamp did the killing, they found that the miners had carefully laid down their tools and stacked them neatly, before trying to escape. "Dad told me that if they had just taken off running, they might have survived," Danny said.

Oof. The tragedy of that left no room for any inane comment on my part. But even then, I was thinking to myself, "I have come as close as is possible to a first-person interview with someone who was there that awful day."

Another thing that struck me was the expression, Dewey Day. Most recent accounts of the Scofield Mine Disaster mention the early closing on May 1 for May Day celebrations. No, it was Dewey Day. Until Danny mentioned that, I had forgotten, myself. That was the day to celebrate Admiral Dewey's May 1 victory in Manila Bay, during the Span Am War.

Thank you, Danny. Little details help make a good story better. I've learned so much from interviews. I've also learned that the smartest thing a writer or historian can do is just be quiet and listen.

It's always been easy for me to be quiet and listen. When I much younger, I had a definite stammer. I still do, but it's much easier to control. One consequence of this rather unimportant defect is that I have always been a better listener than a talker. It caused me some agony when I was kid, but now, I don't think I'd trade my particular defect for anyone else's. I've learned a lot by just listening. Funny to think I might actually be thankful for a stammer. I think I am.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I'm still getting the hang of this thing. I wish there was a way I could comment to folks who have written comments, but I haven't discovered it yet.

To answer Heidi's question, yes, I am LDS. I cast my lot with the Mormons in December of 1965, and have never looked back. It was perhaps the smartest thing I ever did. I've felt some definite unease in recent years, because I do feel that I've been writing books that go a bit over the top for me. I generally prefer to be a bit more sedate about sex in novels. (I have nothing at all against sex in novels, let me state.) But having said that, I am still pleased with my work for Harlequin. But when the opportunity came along to write something more to my comfort level, I did. The result was Borrowed Light, which is the first of what will be more my pattern from now on, I think.

My next book out for Harlequin will be what I have called Choosing Rob Inman. Heaven knows what Harlequin will decide to title it. I am currently finishing a three-story Christmas anthology about three generations of Scottish Wilkies, beginning in the Regency, moving to the Crimea, and then heading west to Fort Laramie. It's been a challenge and vast fun.  Following this is one more book for Harlequin, which is set at Fort Laramie. I guarantee a three-hankie read for that one. (I used to ranger at Fort Laramie, and have a M.A. in Indian Wars history, so it was almost a no-brainer to write one. I'm grateful Harlequin finally let me do that.) I've enjoyed the Regency, but there are other eras and I'm exploring them now.

And then it's on to more Cedar Fort, which is a nifty little publishing house. They recently signed me to a two-book contract. They wanted more books at once, but I prefer to work in two-book increments. I have agreed to write a novel that takes place during the tragic Scofield Mine Disaster, which happened in 1900, about 45 miles from where I live now in Carbon County, Utah. H'mm, turn that into romance? You bet.  I'll be following that with a road romance about the Mexican Revolution in 1912, in which Pancho Villa and his ilk sent the Mormons in Mexico fleeing north to El Paso. It's a most interesting time.  I'm finding that I like that 1900s era quite a bit.

But enough of that. Let me tell you of a great discovery I made in - natch - the swimming pool during water aerobics. Mayzell King was talking about Bountiful Baskets, and I perked up. I'd been wondering if there was a food co-op in this area, and there is!

What a neat organization. It covers Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. You pay roughly $16.50 a week, and on Saturday, go to your particular locaton to pick up a marvelous basket of fruits and vegetables. You transfer from their basket to yours, take it come and eat it. Talk about healthy options. Last week's basket had lemons, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, grapefruit, apples, lettuce, and probably other stuff I'm forgetting.

You have roughly a 20-minute window to pick up your produce, and then anything left over is donated to the local fire station for distribution. If the volunteers have things ready early, you'll get a phone call, so you can arrive sooner. They still hold to the original distribution time, so this typically give someone more time to get there. And if you're ready to go, that means you're done that much sooner. (That make sense?)

And if you're away or still eating on last week's basket, then you simply don't sign up for the next week. You're in the system, so when you get back in, everything runs the same. For example, my husband grows a fabulous garden, so in late summer, we probably won't participate with Bountiful Baskets. But we'll be back in for fall, winter.

It's a great program, and a wonderful co-op. I'm happy to sing the praises of

And now it's time to get ready for water aerobics. On Thursdays, we do zumba in the water, which means a whole lotta shaking going on for this grandma.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ketchup with that?

I saw something funny in the Deseret News this morning. Valerie Phillips' food column listed the 50 spiciest cities in the U.S.  The information was courtesy of the McCormick Spice folks, who ought to know what they're talking about. The common "super-spices" referred to were black pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, garlic powder, ginger, oregano, red peppers (including paprika), rosemary, thyme and turmeric. That's a pretty standard list, as far as I could tell. The top five cities were no real surprise: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, and San Antonio/Corpus Christi, Texas. Oh, let's throw in Houston at number six. (Texas ranked high, and that's a no-brainer to me.) I was surprised to see New Orleans as far down as number eleven, but McCormick ought to know.

My personal chuckle: Nowhere - and I mean nowhere - was there a single city from North Dakota. None from Minnesota or South Dakota, either, but I understand this. I spent 12 fine years in Nodak and still miss it, but there is no cuisine in North Dakota. Oh, the Germans from Russia who populate the Golden Triangle of the state would likely disagree with me, but I'll stand by my statement. North Dakotans will tolerate salt and pepper, but they're a bit suspicious of ketchup. Anything beyond that is a strange new world.

And yet. And yet. One of my favorite recipes from North Dakota is one I got from Marilyn Hudson, a Mandan/Hidatsa lady who runs the Three Tribes Museum in New Town, ND. Marilyn's recipe is called 1,000 Year-old Stew, and it is superb. I know it's an approximation of a really old Plains Indian recipe, because I've had a similar stew on the Fort Peck Rez in Montana.

Here it is: It helps to use bison roast, if you can find one, but beef roast will do.

1 lb. buffalo roast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (more is better)
1 c. sunflower seeds, roasted
2 c. cooked pinto beans, or naby, great northern, lima or red
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. homegrown sage, if you have it
1 6 oz. package of Uncle Ben's Long Grain and Wild Rice
1/2 onion, diced
1 can hominy, drained and rinsed

Use a slow cooker. Add all ingredients and cook on high, covered, for 3 1/2 hours, then turn down to low and cook for 3 more hours.  You might add some broth, if you think it needs some. Delicious.

Nope, there's no cuisine in North Dakota, but I think of Marilyn's stew more often than I ever think of something fancy from New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

It's no mistake that Dr. Joe McGeshick, who teaches at Fort Peck Community College, says that the real name of the school is FPCC, but it stands for "Feed People Community College." It seems someone in the office is always throwing a potluck event. But that's the way Indians are.

Fort Peck is a Sioux/Assiniboine reservation. A few years back when I rangered at Fort Union Trading Post NHS on the Montana/Nodak border, Loren Yellow Bird and I were in charge of one of the Indian Showcase events. I asked Joe to demonstrate "stone boiling."  Assiniboine means "stone boiler," and you probably all remember in elementary school about reading of Indians boiling food in buffalo bladders, using stones. I had never seen it done, and figured that our visitors at Fort Union hadn't, either.

Joe stone-boiled for us and the visitors and it was beyond cool. He just used a metal pot, but the stones were lava rock, and heated in a campfire. He would drop in a few at a time, and the water would just explode with heat. As he talked, he'd take out stones and add more hot ones. Everyone who saw that demonstration enjoyed it. Did it work? You betcha.

Joe's name intrigued me, since I have Scottish ancestors. I told him I had never heard of a Scottish name like that, and he laughed. McGeshick is a white man's interpretation in English of (I think) a Cree or Ojibwe word meaning eagle flying. Joe has a PhD in ethnology and I recall him now with real fondness. I may have to send him an e-mail - you know, one Fergusson to one McGeshick.

Well, toodleoo until next time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Still here

No, no, I haven't forgotten my blog. I was in Florida for a week, doing lawyer-family business, which is never fun, and then came home to some excited e-mails from the good folks at Cedar Fort Publications. It seems that Walmart placed a really big order for Borrowed Light, and wants me to have another novel done immediately. Right now.

No can do, I reminded my editor, because I am halfway through a three-story Christmas anthology for Harlequin, and still owe them a book which is due July 15. We did have a meeting and agreed that as soon as I finish that third book for Harlequin, they want me.  U'mm.  Sounds nice. They wanted a five-book deal, but I said I'd rather do a two-book contract at a time.

So that's the plan in the tan van (an old Sesame Street routine that my kids remember). I'll have the first book due to Cedar Fort Nov. 11, and the second one in June of 2012.  They'll be moving those right along for publication, so that'll work. I already know the topics, and somewhere in there, if the numbers justify it, there will be a sequel to Borrowed Light.

So now I have to write, which is always fun.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Story of Us

For Christmas, I bought my husband the History Channel series called "America: The Story of Us." The whole thing relies on way too much CGI, and it's pretty simple history, but it picks up about halfway through, when camera images were easily available (i.e. after about 1900).

Beautifully narrated by Liev Schrieber (except he can't pronounce Antietam or New Orleans), "The Story of Us" is worthy of viewing. What the series hammers home, is the inventive nature of us restless, violent, free Americans. So much has happened in the world, and much of it - cars, electricity, computers - came from American minds, bent on solving problems or making life better. We do crave our technology.

As I watched, I was reminded of one of my favorite scenes ever in motion pictures, because it illustrated Yankee Know How to a huge degree. Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard and starring everybody, was the story of the ill-fated mission to the moon that had to be aborted because of severe difficulties. The movie gave us one of Holloywood's best lines, too: "Houston, we have a problem."

For me, the best part in the movie is back at command central, when the guy in charge of the mission gathers together a pile of stuff that is available to the astronauts in their confined quarters. He loads it onto a table in command central and gathers his experts around him. I can't recall the exact words, but he gestures to the pile and tells his men this is what they have to use, to instruct the pilots how to jury-rig a return home from outer space. The guys set to work, and sure enough, find a solution. Coupled with the piloting skills of the men on board, they do indeed return. Cool scene.

What's so moving about it is to watch people under pressure take what they have, and make it work. Nobody whines; they just go to work. I'm not saying this is solely an American trait - I'm not that naive - but it does symbolize something about America that I have always appreciated: finding solutions to complex problems. Never has this been portrayed better than that scene from Apollo 13. I'm also moved and humbled by the fact that the computer I am writing this on has more power than that entire roomful of computers that sent people into space. Wow squared.

Yep, we're brash, violent, independent-to-a-fault folks, but we do have a way about us. It was nice to be reminded of that by "America: The Story of Us."

I'm heading for a week in Florida with my sisters, so probably won't be able to update this blog until next Saturday. Florida in January - someone has to go there. Might as well be me.