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.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My heroes

There was a little article in this morning's Deseret News about Florence Smith Jacobsen, who is 98 years old now, and going strong. Years ago, she was general president of the LDS Church's Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association. It's a worldwide organization for LDS young women ages 12 to 18.

She also served as Chuch Curator. It was in this capacity that I had my only encounter - via letter - from Sister Jacobsen. It was in the mid-'70s, when I was a seasonal ranger at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, located in Eastern Wyoming. As curator, Sister J asked me to do a little survey of local historic sites that were also of interest to Mormons, who pioneered what became known as the Mormon Trail in 1847. Specifically, she wanted me to drive to Chimney Rock, near Bayard, Nebraska, and see what kind of historical site it was, and how the state of Nebraska was maintaining it.

One day, we put our three youngsters in the car and drove to Bayard, Nebraska, about 40 or 50 miles from Torrington, where we lived. The historical site was maintained by the state with rustic restrooms, and a signboard, as I recall. I took photos. It was rudimentary, at best.

What happened then, I've never forgotten. You've probably seen photos of Chimney Rock, a distinctive formation that most folks traveling west from 1847 on, wrote about in their journals. It was a milestone of sorts to those trail pioneers, because they knew they were approaching the heart of the west.

Sam was our youngest child then. I think he was about two years old, a sturdy little guy. Martin set him down and Sam and his older sibs started walking toward Chimney Rock. It was some distance from the signboard, but away they went, glad to be out of the car. I watched them. Eventually, I called them back, because it was time to leave. The older two turned around, but Sam kept walking. And walking, on those short legs. He was quite determined to reach Chimney Rock (It was still at least a mile away), and didn't take kindly to being stopped.

In my mind's eye in 1974, I could see other little ones like Sam, walking and walking along the Mormon/Oregon/California Trail, 120+ years before our fact-finding visit. In their case, they had no choice, no warm home to return to, no safe bed to sleep in, no guarantee that there would be anything for them at the end of the trail, or even if they would ever arrive in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Sam humbled me that day with his determination and courage. I've never forgotten it, and I still silently thank Sister Jacobsen for creating a memory. What a chuff I am. I have tears in my eyes as I write this, and I'm not particularly sentimental.

We also stopped at Rebecca Winter's grave, on the return to Torrington. In 1854, I believe, Rebecca Winters, one of the saints headed to Utah Territory, died of cholera. Her grieving family buried her by the trail, and stretched out a wagon tire iron, to arch over her grave. Years later, when the Burlington Northern Railroad was surveying the route by Scottsbluff to lay track, they came upon that tire iron arch, which had been crudely inscribed with Rebecca's name, date of death, and destination.

Kindly railroad officials managed to located Rebecca Winter's family in Salt Lake. Her descendants returned and put up a very nice marker, which also included words from that Latter-day Saint trail anthem, "Come, Come, Ye Saints:" It's the verse that reads, "And should we die, before our journey's through, happy day, all is well. We then are free from toil and labor, too, with the just we shall dwell. But if our lives are spared again, to see the saints their rest obtain, oh, how we'll make this chorus swell, All is well! All is well!"

The railroad kindly did a jog around Rebecca Winter's grave. Today, there is a nice area, plus more of a marker, as Rebecca Winters continues to touch passersby. All is quite well at that monument to pioneers.

Anyway, I sent photos and descriptions of what I found at Chimney Rock and the Winters' grave to Sister Jacobsen. I couldn't resist, though, and my native cheery temperament took over. I told Sister J that I was really sorry, but Chimney Rock was eroding, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

Sister Jacobsen filled her Church Curator's role with great accomplishment. She was responsible for saving the Lion House, the home for many of Brigham Young's plural wives. It had been headed for demolition, but she made a proposal to preserve it that was wise, and led to its renovation, rather than ruin. It remains a lovely landmark in downtown Salt Lake City. She also suggested the creation of the church's Museum of  History, which is a wonderful place today. She also supervised the renovation of the interior of the Manti Temple. which I have always considered one of the most amazing pieces of historic architecture in the United States. We happen to be fortunate enough to live in the Manti Temple district and spend quality time in there.

So my hat is off to you, Florence Jacobsen, and you, Sam Kelly, for touching my heart in many ways. You're my heroes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hi diddle dee dee, a writer's life for me

Ah, crazy times in the writing world. I came home from Salt Lake today and found a leetle box from Harlequin, which usually means one of my books has been translated into another language. The book cover was for Beau Crusoe, the book I wrote that still makes me blush a bit, but I had not a single clue what the language was. Usually I'm good at languages, but this one defeated me. A serious look at the small print on the inside cover revealed the language: Turkish. Wow. This means I've been translated into nine languages now: English, German, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Swedish, Dutch, Spanish and now Turkish. Anyway, I have three copies of Beau Crusoe in Turkish. Know anyone who speaks Turkish?

My reading epiphany came years ago when I finally read War and Peace, which was a superfine book. Trouble was, all the time I was reading it I kept wondering, "If this is so good in English, imagine how much good it must be in Russian."  Now I have no ego that my translated books even hold an unlit match to Tolstoi, but I do wonder how they read in other languages. The only ones where I'll have a glimmer is when Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand and Reforming Lord Ragsdale come out in manga in Japan. Comic books of Regency novels!  To quote probably Jane Austen, "I'm diverted."

A kind reader was curious about status of forthcoming stuff. Here goes: Enduring Light is now at the publisher's, and I think the plan is a January 2012 release. I've seen a draft of the cover, and it's gorgeous. Julia is just the cutest thing, and Mr. Otto approves. I had so much fun writing Enduring Light that it must be illegal in at least 24 counties. Driving home through the canyons today, I started daydreaming and wondering who I would cast as Mr. Otto, Julia and James in the movie version... Maybe I should pay attention to the road, eh?

Coming Home for Christmas is a three-story anthology I wrote for Harlequin. It will be out November 15, I believe. My editor and I thought about this one and decided on a family during that trusty, rusty Regency era, with three members trying to get home for Christmas. I ramped it up a bit this way - the first story is about a ship's surgeon stranded in San Diego in 1813, on the far side of the world with no rescue at hand. The next story is his daughter's story, when she is Doing Good in northern Turkey during the Crimean War, and also trying to get home for Christmas. The third story is her son's story. Like his grandfather, he is a surgeon, but in the U.S. Army, on leave from Fort Laramie and trying to get home to Philly for a Christmas wedding. The three-generation thing worked quite well, and I had fun. It's handy when wars line up so neatly for my characters in three generations. I'm going to enter the first short story, "Christmas in Paradise," in Romance Writers of America's Rita Awards contest, in the novella-length category.

I'm currently writing The Hesitant Heart, set at the aforementioned Fort Laramie during 1876, that summer of the Rosebud battle, the Custer fight, and the Starvation March. Nuff said about that, because I prefer not to discuss what I'm currently working on.

Now to the saga of Choosing Rob Inman, which begins in Dartmoor Prison just as the War of 1812 is winding down. I turned it in in November of 2009, and heaven knows what hole it dropped into. All I know is that it will be coming out in the middle of 2012, and has been renamed Marriage of Mercy. I kid you not. If I searched for years, I doubt I would have come up with a worse title. Tell you what: if you buy a copy, write Choosing Rob Inman on a 3x5 card and paste it over Marriage of Mercy. For all that, it's a good book. Maybe someday it'll end up translated into Urdu.

Marian's Christmas Wish is now up on Amazon and will be out in September. Why September? Maybe to beat the Christmas rush. This is a reprint of a book that came out in 1989, I think, but which is hard to find now, hence the reprint. It will also be available in ebook format. Also out for Christmas, but so far only in ebook format, will be a collection of four of my earlier Christmas stories: "The Christmas Ornament," "Object of Charity," "Make a Joyful Noise" (a personal favorite), and "The Three Kings," rather a dark tale.

Oooo, horrible transition (read, none) to this next paragraph -

You know what question I get a lot about Borrowed Light? People want the recipe for Cecils with Tomato Sauce. Here it is:
1 c. cold roast beef or rare steak finely chopped
salt and pepper
onion juice
Worchestershire Sauce
2 T. bread crumbs
1 T. melted butter
Yolk of one egg, slightly beaten
Season beef with next salt and pepper, onion juice and W Sauce; add remaining ingredients, and shape into the form of small croquettes, pointed at ends. Roll in flour, egg and crumbs, fry in deep fat, drain and serve with tomato sauce. (Julia substituted ketchup, for the sophisticated palates of her guys on the TTP.)

And that's it for me. Back to The Hesitant Heart.  One more thing: I'm speaking at a writers' conference at Utah Valley University on October 6. It's an advanced romance writing class. I called it "Now What? Writing and Selling." Not sure what I'll say yet, beyond don't quit your day job, and always keep a copy. I'll have something useful by October 6. I promise.