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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just a sample

Whew, Valentine's Day hit us hard here in Carbon County. First, daughter Liz's boyfriend got her a gi-normous Russell Stover heart, which we've all been encouraged to eat. (Gotta do what you gotta do.) The task was made simpler because there was one of those keys, which tells you what is what. With that much help and encouragement, the assignment to eat became simpler. I could avoid all the raspberry nougat centers hidden in chocolate coating. What a relief.  And there was a truffle, just waiting for me.

When I was at my daily therapy session (i.e. water aerobics), one of my fellow swimmers mentioned Suzie's Candy Shop. Apparently Suzie had a candy store in downtown Price, Utah, at one time. She decided to pedal back a bit, and remodeled her garage to make a kitchen/store there. Armed with directions, Vondell (my swimming buddy) and I found Suzie on February 13. She was puh-lenty busy, but graciously added us to the list, if we could pick up the goodies on the afternoon of Valentine's Day.  We each got the assortment - a sample of this and that - and were put on Suzie's mailing list.

Ostensibly, Suzie's assortment was for my husband, but again, we're all dipping into the chocolate. He very kindly got me a dozen roses that are multi-colored red and white. They're just fun to look at.

I got another sampler today. Bryony Green, my London editor with Harlequin Historicals, gave me the good news that the North American direct marketing group is going to include the entire first chapter of Her Hesitant Heart, as a samplein a direct mail package that will reach some 320,000 customers between June and September.

People who respond will then receive the whole novel in their introductory shipment. I did notice on the cover of Her Hesitant Heart these words under the title: "New Beginnings." I gather this is an additional series that readers can sign up for. I hope they will.

I emailed back to say I'd be delighted to be part of the proposal.  And I am. Her Hesitant Heart is a story dear to my heart. It's set at Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory, in 1876. I love Fort Laramie. I volunteered there for a few years, and then was a seasonal ranger/historian for a few more years from roughly 1973 to 1975. Fort Laramie was where I forged some friendships that continue to give me real pleasure. It's also where I started writing (and selling) what I call my Fort Laramie stories, short stories and novellas about the men, women and children of the Indian Wars era. The stories are set at Fort Laramie (Wyoming), Fort Bowie Arizona), Fort Buford (North Dakota), and Camp Ruby (Nevada).

The stories were eventually collected into one book, Here's To the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army, and published by Texas Christian University Press. It remains probably my personal favorite, although My Loving Vigil Keeping is following as a close second. Those ranger friends made it a favorite work. One has passed away (the Old Army used to call that 'going to Fiddlers' Green'), but I generally see the others every year or so at one conference or other. I do value my friendships, and none more than that bunch of fellow rangers who took great pleasure in sharing our country's history with visitors from all over the world.

And this was my little secret: The U.S. government paid me every two weeks for doing something I would have done for free, because I love it so much.  I think everyone should have a job like that, at least once in a lifetime.

I hope you all had a lovely Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Here's the deal...

This is really really short, because Cedar Fort wants me to add this promo for My Loving Vigil Keeping. It's good through February 28 - $2.99 for an ebook. Woo hoo! And it's a Whitney Award Finalist in the Historical Fiction category.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A man with a good idea

First, nuts and bolts - My Loving Vigil Keeping was named a finalist in this year's Whitney Awards competition. It's in the Historical Fiction category, which works about right. I believe the awards event is in early May in Provo, Utah. Now I'll promptly forget about it, because if I don't, I'll start worrying and wondering what will happen. It's a privilege to reach that finalist stage, and I thank whoever made that happen.

Also, Cedar Fort is flying me to New York City on the weekend of May 31 for BookExpo America. I believe there will be two booksignings. It'll be a short visit. I may volunteer to pay for another night there, myself. We used to live in Brooklyn, NY, while Martin was in graduate school. I'd like to have time to visit a favorite eatery (Nathan's Famous Hotdogs), and maybe the Frick Museum.

Now to that man with the good idea, per this blog's title. I don't generally read obituaries in the newspaper, but this one caught my eye. The man's name is Welsford Hone "Gus" Clark, and for 38 years, he taught in the elementary education department at Brigham Young University, retiring in 1994.

This caught my attention, because my daughter Mary Ruth Huerta was going to school in elementary education at that time. I just sent her a Facebook message, asking if she had ever taken a class from Dr. Clark.

Here's what really caught my attention - the last paragraph reads, "In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you purchase a children's book and spend precious time reading it to a child."

Boy howdy, how great is that? Wouldn't it be a good funeral where everyone just got comfortable and listened to a good storyteller read children's books? We could all drink cocoa and wrap up in a fuzzy blanket and listen to good books. I could enjoy that.

If I had a quarter for every book I read my children, I'd be rich. Come to think of it, I am rich, because we heard some wonderful stories through the years. My kids had their favorites. Sam liked Brinton Turkle's series about Obadiah, the little Quaker boy on Nantucket, who was always getting in trouble. Thy Friend, Obadiah, is his favorite. Jeremy liked Munro Leaf's classic Ferdinand, about the little Spanish bull, who liked to "sit just quietly and smell the flowers." I think Liz liked Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. I can still recite copious portions of that book. Ditto the Madeline books.

Madeline and the Bad Hat was a favorite. Madeline befriends the naughty little son of the Spanish ambassador, who lived next door to the girls' school ("An old house in Paris that was covered with vines."). What with one thing and another, the Bad Hat gets in lots of trouble and ends up injured. There's this line - "There was sorrowing and pain in the embassy of Spain."  To this day, if one of my kids has a problem, I think of that line, and often say it out loud, even though I get weird looks from folks who aren't in the know about children's literature.

Sarah loved the beautifully illustrated books by Tasha Tudor. I wrote Miss Tudor once and told her how much Sarah liked her books. She sent a gracious reply, which really impressed little Sarah. I can't recall offhand which was Mary Ruth's favorite kid book. I do know that she has a houseful of books for her own three children, Aaron, Ruby and Joshua. She sends some to me, too. You're never too old for a great children's book (or two or three).

Has there ever been anything better than reading to children? My big angst came when, gradually, they preferred to read their own books. The upside of all this is that my children are readers. What a blessing, what a gift.

So let's all take Dr. Clark's advice, and buy a book and read it to a child. Civilization will keep percolating right along. The only thing sadder than someone who can't read is someone who won't read.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Coming up

Writing creates a certain momentum. I'm on Chapter Three of a novel I owe to Harlequin, swinging right along, then bam! I get hit with final proofs for another project. I have to stop and read the final proofs, which slows down the first project. And so on. That's just the business. I drop what I'm doing and immediately look over those final proofs. This keeps me best friends with my editors.

What I was re-reading were the proofs for Stop Me If You've Read This One, that collection of my Prairie Lite columns from my daily newspaper job in North Dakota, roughly 2005 to 2008. That may have been one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever hated, because daily newspaper work is a total grind, and I'm a tad lazy. Just a tad. I learned a lot, wrote a lot, and have not too many regrets about what I wrote.

I've attached one of the columns you'll see in "Stop Me," when it comes out toward the end of April. I was thinking of this story only last week, when I pulled out the book for another look.

Long Time No See

   I broke a North Dakota rule this winter: Never read about cold during a cold winter. I read Frozen in Time, an account of the Franklin Expedition of 1845-48 send to find and map the Northwest Passage.
   The Franklin Expedition came to my attention years ago, when I watched a documentary about the Royal Navy's attempt to explore islands near the Arctic Circle and find the fabled Northwest Passage. In the nineteenth century, Great Britain spread its influence globally until nothing was left to explore except the frozen north. Supremely confident, the navy planned to fill in the last blank spots on the map.
    There's no more bleak place in the world than the islands of northern Canada. Few go there. In the 1840s, Inuits sometimes passed through the area in summer, but no one stayed. It was too inhospitable. Inuits were not then, and are not now, foolish.
    Into this region came the ships, well-provisioned for a three-year expedition to a place everyone else had the good sense to avoid. Entering from the east, Sir John's task was to complete the mapping of the region begun earlier, and exit to the west, into the Bering Strait.
   The expedition utilized a new technology: canned food. The ships carried 8,000 tins of canned goods, plenty for a three-year exploration. By the 1840s, everyone knew that lime and lemon juice would prevent scurvy, that dreadful and often-fatal disease of the deepwater sailor. The expedition had taken that into account, too. No detail was too small to escape notice.
   What no one anticipated were colder than normal summers in the region. The Terror and the Erebus sailed into Lancaster Sound in 1845 and vanished. By 1847, the ships still hadn't popped out of that western end. Where were they?
    In years to come, several expeditions were mounted to find Franklin and his 128 men. The rescue expeditions proved as dangerous as the initial voyage. Gradually, the story came out - how the ships were finally trapped and choked in pack ice, with what remained of the crew forced ashore, where they suffered and died. Some tried to travel to a Hudson's Bay Company post 2,000 miles away, nothing but a forlorn attempt by desperate, starving men. The shocking deaths involved cannibalism, madness, and probably enough despair to circle the earth two or three times.
    In recent times, Canadian scientists took an interest in the sad story. Mounds of empty tin cans from the Franklin Expedition had been found, giving testimony to the highly probable cause of death by lead poisoning. Researchers discovered that the primitive cans were soldered in a way that allowed the lead to seep inside. Add that to scurvy, and the sailors probably never knew what hit them.
    In the early 1980s, anthropologist Owen Beattie of the University of Alberta led a team of scientists to tiny Beechy Island, where three graves of Franklin Expedition members had been located years earlier. Beattie received permission to exhume the bodies of two sailors and one Royal Marine who died in that first winter of 1846, when things weren't desperate yet. Beattie needed tissue samples to test for lead content.
    Over the course of several summers, Beattie and his scientists dug up those crew members, X-rayed and autopsied them right there on Beechy Island. Because they were buried below the permafrost, the corpses were in astoundingly good condition.
    Here's what struck me about the whole experience. Here's what I can't forget. One of Beattie's scientists was Brian Spenceley, a great-great nephew of John Hartnell, who died January 4, 1846, and was buried on Beechy Island. 
     When the scientists opened Hartnell's coffin for the first time in 140 years, Spenceley looked on the body - not the skeleton - of a long-dead uncle. Hartnell's eyes were half open. In the photographs, he looked not quite alive, but not quite dead.
     Beattie described the emotional experience of studying the bodies, and the extreme reverence the team used in its scientific work. When the scientists finished, the bodies were reburied carefully. Everything was replaced the way it had been, before anyone interrupted the men's long sleep on Beechy Island.
    And there was Brian Spenceley, with a story no one else in the world could tell. On Beechy Island, he had the awesome privilege of gazing at someone no one else has ever seen: a truly distant relative from another era. Frozen in Time is a hard book to forget.
This morning, I looked up the book on Amazon, where it's easily purchased (I have an older edition). I wasn't surprised to note that it's now available in ebook format. You'll hardly ever read a more fascinating - if morbid - book than Frozen in Time.