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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I've always just sort of stumbled into things in my life. Sometimes I think when I wrote Miss Whittier Makes a List, I wanted to be an organized chick like my heroine. Naturally, things didn't work out anything like Hannah's list (stuff has to happen in fiction, after all), but there was a bit of wishful thinking on my part.

My husband retired from a North Dakota university in 2009 and we moved to Utah. As it turned out, he's the only one who retired; I've just gotten busier, and it's my own darned fault. Luckily, writing is something I can do anywhere, and which still allows me to wear my beloved thrift store clothes to work. Brushing my hair is optional. I love a job like that.

Part of what goes along with writing books are booksignings and talks (or at least, that's the route with me). I have two booksignings this Saturday, September 28. The first is at Seagull Books on Redwood Road in Salt Lake City from 9-11 a.m. The second is at Seagull in Spanish Fork from 2-4 p.m. Later in October there is one at the Costco in Lehi, Utah, and another at The King's English in Salt Lake.

Then, oh goody, I'll be on the road for two weeks. I enjoy this. I'll be speaking at the library in American Fall, Idaho, on  October 1, and the Malad, Idaho, library on October 2. Then I'll be at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park to visit a ranger friend. We generally get together in October. I get to hear wonderful stories about back country rangering (mainly on horseback), and just how scary urban tourists are.  The next morning, I'll meet another ranger friend in Chico Hot Springs for breakfast. Randy and I first rangered together at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, then later at Fort Union Trading Post NHS. I'll hear more good stories.

Then I'll be on the Montana/Alberta border visiting son Jeremy. This will include a booksigning in Cardston, Alberta, always a pleasure. Then I'll head south to Billings to visit cousins, and then to Nebraska to speak to English students in Morrill, Nebraska. After that, there's a booksigning at the Mountain & Plains Book Expo in Denver, followed by a visit to Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas, which was a favorite spot for Kwahadi Comanches. (Book Two of the Spanish Brand series takes place near there.) After that, I'll spend the night in Salida, Colorado, where hopefully I can replace a cool piece of pottery that my clumsy cat destroyed. Then home.

Besides the friends, family and readers, here's what's fun for me: Tuna fish sammiches. I love them, especially with dill relish. Invariably, I'll make myself tuna fish sandwiches so I don't have to stop for lunch. I may change it up with canned chicken. I'll put cucumbers in my drinking water, and eat grapes and apples. Gone are the days when M&Ms were my travel food of choice. Also, I have a stash of audio cds from the library that come along for the ride. Mostly it's crime fiction - Johnathan Kellerman and Elmore Leonard right now for sure - and history lectures, 18 hours of the Emperors of Rome this trip. I can hardly wait for those ol' Romans.

What a great time of year to drive through the Intermountain West. It's cool and maybe sn**y (you never say the word), and there will be cattle drives. I never mind waiting for cowboys and cattle. I have a few favorite restaurants, including one in Choteau, Montana (home of the great A.B. Guthrie), and Old Faithful Lodge, which I figure I can afford once a year.  I see relatives and friends (I hang onto both a long, long time - boy howdy, I am a good friend). I'll visit my daughter Liz in Lafayette, Colorado, and drop off a plant or two from her dad (provided they survive the trip that far).

I never used to do this, but I'll bring along books to sell. It's better than snake oil. Which reminds me: I'll probably haul along some of my homemade hand cream, too. It makes great gifts. I subscribe to the Lewis & Clark Method of Traveling Amiably - always have useful goods to hand out to the natives. H'mm. It worked pretty well until Lewis shot a Blackfeet Indian.

If I can, I'll go a bit out of my way to Thermopolis State Park and the Wyoming State Bath House. I love that place, even though I'll reek of sulfur. Who cares? When I run out of Elmore Leonard, I'll drag out my cds and sing at the top of my lungs.

Gee, all this fun, and my mileage is tax deductible. Does it get any better?

Monday, September 9, 2013

I'm such a fan girl

I don't watch television. No time, really, and I don't like vulgar comedy. The only thing I watched last year was Downton Abbey, and I'm not even convinced I want to see this year's episodes that start in January.  I mean, really, was it necessary to kill Matthew? I will watch Netflix now and then and other dvds (always watch L.A. Confidential at least once a year), but that's it. TV is too much bother.

Silly me. I was nosing around on instant Netflix on my iPad late one night, and my goodness, I happened onto Ripper Street. As soon as I noticed that the BBC series (first season) starts six months after the last "visit" by Jack the Ripper to Whitechapel, I knew I was hooked. Crime fiction is my escape reading, and I decided that Victorian crime fiction on the telly was worth a look.

My goodness, I loved it, all eight gritty, gory, violent episodes. The casting is amazing, with Matthew Macfadyen as Inspector Edmund Reid, who in fact handled the H Division located in Whitechapel, one of London's seamiest slums. His gruff and tumble sidekick Sgt. Bennett Drake is played by the excellent Jerome Flynn. Rounding out the ensemble is Andy Rothenberg as Homer Jackson, a former Pinkerton/U.S. Army surgeon and general, all-around bad boy, who supplies the technical know-how in an era just dipping into technology. There are ladies, and bad girls, and a Jewish orphanage director, and assorted flats, cheats and dangerous creeps. Be still, my heart.

The set is dressed amazingly well, with a scrupulous eye to detail, especially in the period clothing and manners. Maybe the stories strain credulity a time or two, but did I care? Not a whit. I even ordered the dvd of Season One on Amazon this morning (which I plan to loan to you, Bob Kisthart, when I see you in Yellowstone in a few weeks). Apparently Season Two was in the planning before Season One even came out. It's that good.

If you're not a fan of violence, heavy accents, bloody swash and nonstop action, don't watch. But if you enjoy impressive eye candy in a rough-hewn way, excellent acting, and something a bit different, tune in. I believe the new season starts in November. I can barely wait.

Now to something different - A few weeks back, I spoke to a library book club in Emery, Utah, about My Loving Vigil Keeping. The group calls itself the Page Flippin' Divas, and they are a fun, well-read group. Pretty much every group I speak to wants to know which of the characters in the novel are real (most of them), and how I did my research. I'm happy to talk about it, if they'll willing to listen.

When the meeting was over, I chatted with the ladies. One of them - she might have been in her 80s - wanted to tell me about her father. His last name was Hansen and she was the oldest child. She went with him everywhere, and grew up hearing him say "Diolch," in place of "thank you." In that way of children, she never questioned him about it, because she knew he was saying thank you. She did wonder what the language was, but never asked him.

She told me that not until she read My Loving Vigil Keeping, and saw that word in the book, did she put two and two together and realize that her father, a Hansen, was saying thank you in Welsh. "My younger brothers and sisters don't remember him saying that," she told me. "Maybe by the time they came along, he was just farther away from the word."

Since her father's last name was Danish, I had to ask her about her mother. "Her last name was Oliver," she said. Bingo. Welsh. We had a little laugh, and she said that the book brought her closer to her father, because of that simple word.

And that's the fun part about writing, and the total payoff: visiting with readers and hearing their stories.

Now, how many days until Season Two of Ripper Street starts? I am a fan girl.