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.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Truly random natterings

I have a writing board by my computer. At least, that's what I call it. You know, those easel thingees you used to prop up letters or information or notes, while you're writing. When I finish a writing project, I generally deep six the chapters outlines, etc., that have gathered there, and clear the decks for the next book. What this does it get me down to the metal surface of the writing board, where for years I have affixed various thoughts that either appealed to my twisted sense of humor or - hopefully - a more tender side.

On the funny ones, I added this little poem from the Wall Street Journal when my kids were the age where this made total sense:
Heavens Above
If children moved away at twelve,
We'd wring our hands and grieve;
Thus God provided teenage years
To make us glad they leave.

(It's attributed to Steve Cornett, who must've had a doozey of a week with his teens)

This bit of fluff came from the Orlando Sentinel:
What do you know about Holland? The British wit Alan Coren wrote this about it: "Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of the country is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers."  That still makes me chuckle.

One of my favorite authors was Ellis Peters, who wrote the wonderful Brother Cadfael series. This bit of wisdom is from One Corpse Too Many, where the good monk teams up for the first time with under sheriff Hugh Beringar, creating one of crime fiction's best duos:
"You did the work that fell to you, and did it well. God disposes all. From the highest to the lowest extreme of a man's scope, wherever justice and retribution can reach him, so can grace."

The historian in me that never lurks too far below the surface always appreciates this, because it is monumentally true of people and times. It's from the introduction to The Age of Napoleon, which was co-authored by Will and Ariel Durant, surely one of history's most interesting - and possibly unlikely - couples:
    "All in all, in life and in history, we have found so many good men and women that we have quite lost faith in the wickedness of mankind."

And this, by a wise man, indeed, Bishop Gregory of Tours, many, many years ago, from his History of the Franks:
   "A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad."

As I embark on chapter five of The Hesitant Heart, a novel set at Fort Laramie in 1876, I am always in agreement with this wisdom from Galsworthy: "Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem."   I've done many years of research on the Indian Wars, and let me assure you, this was a common complaint on the frontier, when soldiers flinched as folks sitting comfortably back home were in huge sympathy with the Indians on the plains. (Now don't think of me as hard-hearted. I'm a total realist, and I look at the Indian Wars from the 19th century POV. The US Army acted as an agent of the federal government, nothing more.)

This comment from the great Ray Bradbury is something I am always mindful of, when I write. I hope all writers are:
    "I held the bird in my hands, one hand cupped over the other. I could not feel the weight of the bird and would not have known it was there or even alive except I could feel its heart beating. So it is with a good story or poem. You should feel the heartbeat, without feeling the weight of what you are reading."

To conclude on a lighthearted note: "Don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today. That way, if you liked it, you can do it again tomorrow."

Now to fill up the writing board with new chapter outlines... It's all good.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In the mines

Sorry about my blogging silence for so long, but when I'm in the home stretch of writing a novel, it'sh hard to think of anything else. I finished the sequel to Borrowed Light on Saturday, and spent the next few days revising and tidying it. I also included a bunch of recipes that Juljia cooked on the Double Tipi. DOn't know if those will be in Enduring Light or not, but I've got them together. Someof them I want to try, especially Lemon Queens.

I also spent last Monday proofing the final copy for Marian's Christmas Wish, which Cedar Fort will publish in September. When I left Signet, I was able to get my copyrights for all my Signet work, plus Daughter of Fortune, my first novel. Since those early Signets are quite pricey on used book websites, it seemed like a good idea. The book will be in paperback and also available in ebook format.

To continue. It's a day or two later, and I noticed that my blog didn't print as I wished. The fault is undoubtedly mine, but oh well. The title is slugged as "In the mines," but none of that came out in the blog I thought I wrote.

I volunteer at the Western Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper, Utah. Last week I got lucky, and was able to interview - for the museum - a brother and sister who were raised in Castle Gate, Utah, near one of Carbon County's numerous coal mines.

Anyone traveling on Highway 6 through the canyons to Price, Utah, will pass Castle Gate, a distinctive rock formation. There used to be a tunnel, but the highway eventually blasted through. There also used to be a town of Castle Gate. It's gone completely. When a mine was closed because the demand for so much coal petered out, or what was there become too hard and dangerous to mine, or for a variety of reasons, the coal company usually just razed the town. In some cases, the people living there were allowed to purchase their homes from the coal company and then the company moved them to a different location.

Castle Gate was one of those coal camps that was razed. There are few, if any, indications that a thriving little town once existed there, in the shadow of Castle Gate and some imposing cliff faces.  Boyd Newbold and his half sister Helen Vexler were raised there. Boyd's wife, Joyce, was raised there, too. Joyce never knew three of her grandfathers, who died in the tragic Castle Gate mine explosion in 1924, when 174 miners perished. (Joyce was a bonus. I was there to interview her husband Boyd and sister-in-law, but her story was equally compelling. I expanded that interview with pleasure. It got even bigger when her nephew Mike Vlamakis showed up, and I got a Greek-American angle, too.)

It's the detail that can make a story memorable. I asked Boyd and Helen to tell me of a distinct memory from their childhood in the 1930s. Helen remembered the whistle that blew, indicating some sort of catastrophe in the mine - one short burst and two long ones, over and over. Then the phone would ring in her house, and her stepfather, Mac McDonald, would report to the mine. He was the master electrician and one of his vital jobs was the get air flowing out of the mine, to drive out accumulations of deadly methane gas.

The McDonalds lived in one of the few houses with a telephone, because his job was so essential to mine safety. Mac didn't generally go in the mine. Boyd and Helen both remembered that he smoked a pipe, and always had matches on him. According to Boyd, when Mac had to go in the mine, they would search him for matches and take them away, because the danger of explosion was always present. "He always clenched his pipe in his teeth," Boyd said. Once they tried to take that away before he went in, and Mac told them in no uncertain terms that if they took his pipe, he wouldn't go in the mine. So there's this tall, thin Scot, pipe clenched in his teeth, working underground and most emphatically not smoking.

Boyd remembers the days of strikes, as the United Mine Workers of America sought to unionize the mines, and to help the miners negotiate better contracts. Before a shift, the men went into the change house (or bath house) to put on their pit clothes and get ready to go in the mine. If a strike was imminent, the president of the local UMW chapter would walk out among the men and dump out the water he carried in his lunch box. (These lunch boxes were cylindrical affairs with part containing food, and part containing water.) When their president silently dumped out the water, they knew they weren't going in the mine that day, because no one went in a mine without water. "Then we'd change clothes again, and go to the union hall to find out what was going on," Boyd said.

The strikes could be lengthy. Three months was not uncommon. Boyd remembers going to other mines to show support for the miners at that location. The striking miners made life as miserable as they could for the "scabs," men the company hired to take the places of the miners on strike. When a coal truck tried to leave the mine, the men on strike would swarm it and pull down the end gate, dumping the coal.

And there's more. I asked Helen for one of her earliest memories. She recalled Mary Kay Burgess, a first grade friend, who died when a large boulder from that cliff face crashed into the Burgess house, killing her. The company had dug deep trenches behind the houses, which generally were effective enough to stop smaller boulders from rolling into the houses. But when a hunk of the cliff fell, that was too much.

Joyce showed me a photograph of her great grandmother Mary Ann Davis Reese, born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales. She was a beautiful woman, dark in the way of the Welsh, with beautiful eyes. She and her husband moved to Winter Quarters, Utah, and he worked in the mines there, drawn by work he was used to doing in Wales. The promise of better lives in America drew them there, as well as the urge - in the case of Mormons - to move to Utah. As was true in so many cases, the real benefits of U.S. life smoothed the path for their descendants, but not necessarily them.

Mining life is not for the faint of heart, even now. My bishop's wife remembers that day of the recent Crandall Canyon mine disaster, when 6 miners were trapped and died, and eventually 3 rescuers died, too. Her husband, Brad Timothy, was head of mine rescue at a nearby mine. All that day, over and over, the networks played a shot of Bishop Timothy in his truck, headed to the mine. "It was a long, long day," Margaret remembers, as she watched that same shot.

And Helen remembers that when the whistle blew in Castle Gate, all of the wives whose men were in the pit that day would hurry to the mine entrance and wait and wait.

As they say here in Carbon County, if you can turn on a light switch and get light, thank a miner.

Friday, June 3, 2011

All through the night

This writing business is not for the faint of heart, especially when a writers chooses - or is chosen by - a big topic. I'm on Chapter 19 of the sequel to Borrowed Light, and it's more fun than is probably legal in some states. Writing can be like that, at times, or it can be like pulling teeth. Sometimes I have to just wait patiently for the story to surface. The cool part is that I know it will. I just have to be patient.

For me, anyway (all writers are different, I suspect), what happened today indicates that I am already thinking about the next book for Cedar Fort, which will be My Loving Vigil Keeping, a story of the Scofield Mine Disaster. The title, of course, comes from the Welsh lullaby.

This afternoon, I was driving home from Manti, and decided to take the back road to Scofield, which meant threading down a twisty, windy road past the Skyline Mine. My goodness there's a lot of snow on Utah's mountains. I stopped and looked for a minute at all the cars and pickups in the mine parking lot, thought of the many men underground right then, and said a small prayer.

In tiny Scofield, I finally had the courage to visit the cemetery. Two hundred men and boys died in the explosion and rising damp of the Winter Quarters Mine on May 1, 1900. Many bodies were shipped to other cemeteries in Utah and the West, but a substantial number remain there in Scofield. Nine Luoma men and boys from Finland - yes, one family - died there and remain there. Luoma Luoma Luoma Luoma Luoma Luoma Luoma Luoma Luoma, all in a row. And there are Welshmen, and Scotsmen, and one touching stone from Mrs. T.H. Reilley, to her husband: "Sleep on, dear husband/And take thy rest,/God called thee home,/ He thought it best." 

Marker after marker, and all with the same date: May 1, 1900.  On and on. I've been in some sad places: The Holocaust Museum, the Antietam Battlefield, in particular. And now there is a third one, and it seems more terrible than the rest: the little cemetery at Scofield, Utah. Maybe it seems more terrible to me, because in January or February when I start writing that story, I'll be deep in the middle of the sorrow. And the joy. I couldn't just write a sad story.

I sat in my car, and my shuffle happened to be playing Welsh folk songs. "Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee, all through the night./Guardian angels God will send thee, all through the night./Soft the drowsy hours are creeping, hill and vale in slumber sleeping./I, my loving vigil keeping, all through the night."

There are far too many young men who will be always be young men, in that cemetery. I sat there, cried, and promised them I'd write them the best book I could.

And that's the easy life of a writer. We do take things personally, or we'd never write.

Friday, May 27, 2011

When I'm writing, I'm happy...

Boy howdy, it's been awhile since I randomly nattered, but I get that way when I'm writing novels. I should apologize, but there's no point. When I'm writing, I get pretty focused on the manuscript, and that's not going to change.

First, some housekeeping: On Saturday, June 4, from 2-6 p.m., I'll be signing books at BYU, as part of the Utah Festival of Books. Should be fun. As far as I know, that's about it for booksignings anytime soon. I think I'll be back at BYU for Education Week in August.

Something high-larious happened about six weeks ago. First, a little backstory. Several years ago, I was contacted by a publisher in Japan who wanted to translate two of my Regency romances into Japanese: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and Reforming Lord Ragsdale.  I agreed, because it's aways fun to get another check for something written years ago (I call that free money). The publisher did a fine job, and sent me six copies of each book. H'mm. One would have been enough, considering that my entire repertory in Japanese is Ohayo gosimasu. End of story.

Or so I thought. Six weeks ago, I heard from the same publisher. Here's the deal this time: another publisher wants to turn those two books into manga! As far as I could figure out, manga is the equivalent of what we now call graphic novels (which I have always called comic books). Regencies as comic books??

To say I was skeptical would be to understate the matter. I e-mail Kyoko Sagoda and told her I'd think about it. That evening, I mentioned to my daughter, Liz, about the potential comic books of two of my Regencies. My word. Her eyes got big and she grabbed me and said, "Mom! Do you have any idea how big that is in Japan?"  Well, obviously, Mom didn't, because Mom just gave her a fishy-eyed stare. I called another of my savvy daughters and told her about the manga deal, and she got equally excited.

With those unsolicited reactions, I figured I was on to something, so I did the deal. My daughters assure me that manga are (is?) a huge deal in Japan. And you know, the more I think about it, the more curious I am to see what Regency ladies and gentlemen look like in Japanese comic books.

But back to writing. I'm on chapter 14 of Enduring Light, my sequel to Borrowed Light. If anything, it's even more fun than the first book, because I know these folks pretty well now. I figure I'm close to halfway through now, and should have it to my editor by the end of July. Writing takes up a great deal of my time, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Mr. Otto and Julia Darling have become friends of mine.

Onward. Back to chapter 14.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Medicine Bow, Wyoming

First, the housekeeping:  What will be coming out this Christmas are Marian's Christmas Wish and four of my moldy oldie Christmas stories, but only in ebook format. The editor says that if the demand is good, they'll be issued in paperback sometimes next year. Works for me. The cost will be around $2.99, we think, which seems reasonable.

Now, back to last week. After I left the Indian Wars conference (excellent, as always, except gee, we Indian Wars scholars are getting older and older), I visited friends, then spent Sunday night in the Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Now that's a hotel. Built in 1911, the current owner, a nice chap named Scott, is staging a centenary event in June. James Drury of the old Virginian TV series will be special guest of honor. (James Drury has got to be getting long in the tooth.) Scott says all the rooms are taken, plus the motels he owns in Medicine Bow, and the old bank that's been converted to hotel rooms.

When I checked in, Scott warned me that the heat hadn't been turned on upstairs yet (not many late spring visitors), and I'd be the only one staying in the hotel proper that night. I said I didn't mind, and I didn't. I was given one of the suites, which is a separate bedroom, bathroom, and sitting room. It was like staying in a museum. The brass bed was comfortable in all the right places, and there was a teeny bit of heat coming out of the radiator in the sitting room. I've enclosed a photo of the room, and the Owen Wister dining room downstairs. (If there had been any ghosts roaming about, I'd have been fair pickin's, but I slept quite soundly. Nice to know the Virginian is not as haunted as the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico.

While in The Virginian, I reminisced about something my friend, Laura Lee Wilkinson, had told me, when I saw her that day in Torrington, Wyoming. Laura Lee comes from a ranching family. Her sister and husband still ranch on the old property, which is located near Laramie Peak. It was, and remains, an isolated ranch. When Laura Lee and her two sisters were high school age, they moved into town (Laramie) for high school. When Laura Lee eventually graduated from the U of Wyoming and returned home to teach at a one-room school, she rode her horse to work. (She had a blizzard story that made my hair curl.) When they lived on the ranch, they only went into town twice a year for supplies. And I don't believe there was any phone service.

Laura Lee told me about an experience her father had as a 12-year-old boy on a trip to rootin' tootin' Medicine Bow from the ranch. This must have been in the 1910s or '20s, as near as I can figure. He was told by his father to hitch up four horses to the wagon, tie his saddle horse on behind, and ride to Medicine Bow for salt blocks for the cattle. Before he left, his father told him, all calm-like, to be careful when he drove the team across the railroad tracks there in Medicine Bow.

"If that near horse hears the train whistle, he'll spook," the rancher told his 12-year-old son. "What you do then is keep tugging on that inside line. The team will go in a circle, and you can get them quieted down."

It was a two-day trip. He spent the first night on the trail. The next day he got into Medicine Bow and filled the order at the feed store. Sure enough, as he started across the railroad tracks, there was a train coming and it tooted.

"Dad told me that the team took off running," Laura Lee told me. "He tugged and tugged on that inside line, and the team, the wagon, and the saddle horse tied on behind went around and around in circles until the one skittish horse settled down."

When everyone was straightened out, he pointed to team toward the ranch and started home. After one more night on the trail, he got there. His dad helped him unload the supplies, and when he was done, asked him, all casual-like: "Have any trouble, son?"


"You're sure?"


And that was it: a kid growing from boy to man because he had to, in a great state with people just like him. I love Wyoming.

Good news and work

I'm a failure as a blogger right now. I visited with Jennifer Fielding, my Cedar Fort editor, on Friday, and the word is go ahead right away on a sequel to Borrowed Light. So that's what's starting today, which means writing comes first. If I hit my mark - preface and far into Chapter One today - I'll blog tonight.

Jennifer also said that BL is in its second printing, and Cedar Fort will be  issuing my Signet traditional regencies in both a paperback and ebook format. They're starting with Marian's Christmas Wish for Christmas, and I think a collection of my Christmas short stories. I think they're talking two reprints a year, to alternate with my new novels.

Had a really good booksigning at the Seagull Book at 1720 Redwood Road in Salt Lake City: lots of semi-bewildered husbands with small kids, looking for something for Mom on Mother's Day. Nice folks.

Cheerio, folks.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Justin Osmond

Now I ask you: What author forgets to bring a pen to a booksigning? I can tell you that it's Justin Osmond, Merrill and Mary Osmond's second son, who has just self-published (with Shirley Baulmann's help) his autobiography, Hearing with My Heart. Saturday's booksigning at the Mount Pleasant Library was Justin's first one, and he forgot a pen.

But I got lucky. I shared the table with Justin, loaned (and then gave) him my extra pen, and met a friend. What a delightful young man. He has 90 percent hearing loss, the only one of his generation of Osmond cousins to have inherited a family trait. He moves gracefully between the deaf world and the hearing world, mainly because of his own will, and the strength and tenacity of his parents, who saw that he had the help he needed throughout his young life, and his reliance on the Savior.

After listening to him speak to others about his book (I assured him that was what authors did at booksignings), I watched him interact with friends and potential buyers, sharing his story and encouraging them. Justin's a busy man. He has recently returned from Africa,as part of his work with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which provides hearing aids for children and others in parts of the world where such things are terribly hard to come by. I doubt his has lots of time for booksignings, but he's a total natural, because he's such a people person.

And now he's written a wonderful book describing his quiet world, and the tremendous role that his parents and siblings and gifted educators have played in opening this quiet world and helping him reach his maximum potential, which is limitless, as far as I can tell. Over and over to his fascinated audience on Saturday, Justin explained, "While I may have a hearing defect, it doesn't have me. It doesn't define me."

That's the strength of his well-written book: whatever challenge or disability - seen or unseen - that a person might possess, it can be overcome using courage, tenacity, a sense of humor, and belief in one's self. As Justin points out several times, it never hurts to have Heavenly Father on your side.

Although some might look at the Osmonds' life as one of privilege, it's been a challenge. True, there are material blessings that have come their way, but the cost is high: travel; fathers and uncles away from home on tour; moving from place to place, at times; and real difficulties that come from having a famous label attached. Justin doesn't mince any words about the difficulties he and his siblings encountered while living in Branson, Missouri, when the Osmonds performed there. Branson High School was full of bullies quite willing to pick on the Osmonds. Even transfer to a so-called non-denominational Christian academy didn't make it better. But they stuck it out, taught where they could, and lived Christian lives among people who don't think Mormons are Christians.

As I read Justin's account of those trying years, I remember a time I was asked to speak about writing to a similar non-denominational Christian academy in nearby Springfield, Missouri. (We lived near Springfield and I worked at Cox Medical Centers.) I was all ready to speak, when I found out that the school had recently shown its students a scurrilous bit of video vomit against Mormons called, "The Godmakers." I sent a letter to the school and said that I would not speak there, after all, because I was LDS, and didn't want to have anything to do with a so-called educational facility that considered it Christian to so abuse another church, with no attempt to get facts straight.

Upon reflection now, I think Justin and his brother, Shane, were much braver than I was. In a school assembly they asked for permission to sing "I Am a Child of God" to the student body. It was granted, and they sang. After that experience, the school board voted to make "I Am a Child of God" the school song. I had refused to go to a place like that, but these two boys bravely sang in front of their peers and teachers. My hat's off to you, Justin. I didn't have your courage. (Sadly, Justin pointed out that when the Osmonds left there, the school changed the rules to ban Mormons from ever attending. Ah, well.)

Yep, Hearing with My Heart is a great read. You can buy it on Amazon, or go to I think it's also available at Deseret Book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Zulu, my guilty pleasure

Amazing how one thing leads to another. After finding a talk by Elder Jeffrey Holland for next week's Relief Society lesson, I started nosing around on the category, "What does Welsh sound like?" Sure enough, there were plenty of good examples on the Interwebs. And that just naturally led to Googling Welsh choral singing, which is always guaranteed to send shivers down the spine. Don't know what it is about  the Welsh, but they can SING. First I had to listen to "Suo Gan," that ineffably lovely Welsh lullaby, featured on Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. If there is a more beautiful melody, I don't know what it could be.

Well, "Suo Gan" morphed into "All Through the Night," (Ar hyd y nos) another gorgeous Welsh lullaby. Found that one, too, and sang along. And once there, it was only a matter of time until I found "Men of Harlech," which is especially stirring when sung by an entire audience of Welshmen at a rugby match. I don't know why the opposing team even bothered to come out on the pitch, after that bit of vocal intimidation.

And "Men of Harlech" always and forever leads to the 1964 movie, Zulu. After two days of terrible fighting, the little British Army contingent (140 strong) at Rorke's Drift in Natal is waiting for the final charge from some 4,000 Zulu warriors. It is January 23, 1879, at the end of the Zulu Wars. (If you ever want to read a good book on the Zulu and their wars, try The Washing of the Spears, by Donald R. Morris. It's the standard work.)

There's something about the Zulu. I had a friend at BYU years ago from South Africa, and we were talking about the various native groups in her homeland. I asked her what the Zulu are like. She just waved her hands in a gesture of complete inadequacy and said, "Well, they are just...just Zulu."  I think I know what she meant. When I think about the Lakota on the North Plains, that's about what I am reduced to.

So there are the British, waiting for the final stand. The Zulus are singing and banging their spears against their body-length, cowhide shields, when Colour Sergeant Bourne approaches one of his Welshmen in the South Wales Borderers, who were the lucky guys at Rorke's Drift. The sergeant asks in his unflappable British way what the Welshman thinks of the singing.

Equally thoughtful, the Welshman replies, "They have a good bass section, but no top tenors, that's for sure." The man - dirty and desperately weary - thinks a minute, then starts to hum. He has a beautiful tenor voice, and he sings the first verse of "Men of Harlech." Men of Harlech stop your dreaming/Can't you see their spear points gleaming/See their warrior pennons streaming/to this battlefield?

The other Welsh soldiers join in, and nearly drown out the Zulu. Men of Harlech, stand ye steady/ Let it not be ever said ye/ For this battle were unready/ Welshmen do not yield.

The Zulus charge, and are beaten back. The mission and supply depot at Rorke's Drift survived, and the legend of the thin red line gets another burnish. Good stuff. Of the 1,400 or so Victoria Crosses awarded so far, 11 were won at Rorke's Drift. All that is fact.

I don't know if that singing really happened at Rorke's Drift, but as we used to say in grad school, "It should have." I know for a fact that Western history reenactors love to watch Zulu. It's our guilty pleasure. Quote me a line from the movie, and I'll quote one back. (Private: "Why is it us? Why us?" Sergeant Bourne: "Because we're here, lad. Nobody else. Just us.")

Yep. Nobody else. Just us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cancelled book signings

H'mm, here's an interesting development. Emily called from Cedar Fort today to tell me that the two Seagull Bookstore booking signings this week end have been cancelled because all the Borrowed Lights are sold out! I was a bit surprised, and disappointed, too. Once I get geared up for a booksigning, I like to go through it.  She said the books will be arriving sometime next week, so we have to reschedule those April 16 signings for sometime in May. So it goes. I was honestly hoping for two good booksignings to take away the taste of last week's fiasco at the Deseret Book on S. University.

I'm very much looking forward to the April 23 event in Mt. Pleasant. Apparently the good folks there have remodeled their library, and are holding two days of booksignings then: one on Friday basically for children's and young adult authors, and the next one on Saturday for the rest of us. I'm looking forward to it, plus the chance to shill Here's to the Ladies, as well.

Ladies is still my favorite book, probably because the Indian Wars setting always reminds me of the fun I had during my ranger years in the National Park Service. It was the kind of a job where they paid me every two weeks for doing what I probably would have done for free. So enjoyable. And along with the setting of some of America's best Indian Wars forts were the wonderful men I worked with through the years- most retired now, one gone, all remembered with great fondness.

I'll be seeing most of the at the end of April at the Fort Robinson Indian Wars Conference, in Crawford, Nebraska. It's a terrific setting for a great gathering. Since there are only so many Indian Wars scholars, we all tend to see each other every few years.

When I was in Cheyenne a few weeks ago, I went to the State Museum there and was lucky enough to find a copy of Tom Lindmier's I See By Your Outfit: Historic Cowboy Gear of the Northern Plains. I'll take it along for him to autograph, because I gave my original copy of Lindmier's book to a friend in North Dakota before we moved. I always called him Lindmier; maybe that's where I got the idea for Mr. Otto to plague Julia Darling by using her last name only.

But Saturday, it's off to the grandkids' house in Magna, which will ultimately be more fun than a booksigning. We're having an early Easter egg hunt - provided there's no blizzard - and husband Martin bought puh-lenty of chocolate treats for the plastic eggs. I'll make my sugar cookie dough and we'll make way too many cookies, too, because we can. I can't think of a better reason.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hoo Boy

Me oh my, what a stinko booksigning on Saturday at the Deseret Book at 989 S. University Avenue in Provo! I'd been looking forward to this one, because it was my first booksigning at a Deseret Book Store, which in this area is the Big Dog. Weather was crappy, and it was a white knuckle drive through Price and Spanish Fork Canyons, but I knew this would be worth it.

Could I have been more wrong? I arrived early at the store, as I always do, but it wouldn't have made any difference. No one told the staff in the store that there was a booksigning! Sigh. I assured the person who was playing manager on Saturday that there was a booksigning, so they started clearing off a table while someone scurried away to call the real manager.

She returned to inform me that yes, there was a signing scheduled, but no one in charge had told them. Also, the books that were supposed to arrive via FedEx on Thursday hadn't arrived. Sigh squared. They did round up 12 books from various other Deseret Book Stores, and put those on the table. I had brought along a poster Cedar Fort has created. They found and easel and put that up in the entrance area.

Since I was already there - the signing was to go from 1-3 - I sat down and went to work. By 1:30, the 12 books were gone. I suggested that maybe they could drive to the very nearby Seagull Books and buy a few, but no, that wasn't an option, apparently. (Doesn't Deseret Book own Seagull Book?) I sat there a little longer, but felt a bit silly, since there weren't any books to sign. I left.

Crazy. Perhaps Deseret Book is just too big to care. Still, if I had been managing that particular outlet, and the books hadn't shown up by Friday (they were due Thursday), I'd have gotten in my car and driven TEN MINUTES to Cedar Fort and bought a few books. Initiative seems to be sadly lacking at that store.

So it was another white-knuckle drive home. At no point in this old, dreary business did I raise my voice to anyone; not my style. I'm not a writer who expects blue M&Ms in a Waterford dish, and shaved ice brought from the Andes by Inca runners, but at a booksigning I expect  a) a staff that knows there is a signing  b) actual books on the table to sign.  Doesn't seem like much, eh?

Of course, part of the problem was that the Saturday before, I had participated in a truly wonderful booksigning at the Cardston Book Shop, in Cardston, Alberta, run by father and son David and Randy Prete, so this miserable signing suffered by comparison. The folks at the Deseret Book on 989 S. University could take notes from the Pretes on how to run a signing.

I have two booksignings next Saturday, April 16: one at a Seagull Book in American Fork, Utah, from 1-3 p.m., and another at the Seagull Book in South Towne in Sandy, from 4-6 p.m. Seagull seems to be more on the ball, so I think they will be fine.

Sorry I'm complaining, but ineptitude makes me grouchy. It'll pass. Right now I'm making a few changes in the Christmas anthology collection I've written that will be out in November, courtesy of Harlequin. I'm happy with it. It's always more fun to be writing.

Still, though, a shout out to Earl and Afton Condie,who had heard about Borrowed Light from their friend Lella, read it, and bought 8 books for themselves and their children, all Wyomingites by birth. They're the kind of folks who make booksignings so much fun.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In praise of Hal Halvorsen

Next booksigning is this Saturday, April 9, at Deseret Book, 989 S. University, Provo, Utah, from 1-3 p.m.

When I travel, as I did last week to Cardston, Alberta, for a booksigning, I like to take along an unabridged novel or history to listen to. I got lucky and picked out The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour, by Andrei Cherny. There might be a bit of hyperbole in the title, but it was a great book to listen to.

And never more than on this trip, when I was headed to Canada, and drove right past the turnoff in northern Utah to Garland, Utah, where Col. Gail S. Halvorsen is from. He's still alive - 91, I think - and still remembered in Berlin, for his little effort to provide some chocolate and other candy to Berlin's children, who had never known such luxury during all those years of war and its aftermath, when the Soviets did their darnedest to shut down Berlin and drive out the allies. (The Soviets come across as thoroughly nasty in the book, and you know, they were.)

Probably most literate people know the story (and only literate people read this blog, I am convinced). Here was an army pilot with Air Transport, the least glamorous kind of flyer. His WWII was spent flying prosaic transports from here to there. The Berlin Airlift became Hal Halvorsen's defining moment. He had taken a brief tour of Berlin and noticed the little group of children watching the planes land at Tempelhof Airfield. In poor German, he chatted with him. The few kids who had some English responded. As he left, he was struck by the fact that in all his other duty posts around the world, kids just naturally came up to Americans and asked for candy and gum. Not these kids. They were polite, hungry, traumatized, in rags, and expected absolutely nothing from him.

On an impulse, he handed out the two sticks of gum in his pocket, after breaking them in half.  Those four sticks were appropriated with shy thanks, and then the wrappers circulated among the children, who just sniffed them and handed them on. Touched, Halvorsen resolved to save his little weekly ration of chocolate and gum and send it out the flare chute of his C-54 transport. He told the kids that he would wiggle his plane's wings as he flew over Tempelhof. They would know to look for the three modest parachutes made of his handkerchiefs.

It began with three parachutes. As word spread, Halvorsen's kind little gestured evolved into Operation Little Vittles, which materially altered German fear and distrust of Americans. It allowed Americans to send candy and handkerchiefs to the flyers of the Berlin Airlift. Thousands of chocolate bars - tons of candy - dropped over Berlin before the blockaid was finally lifted, and Berlin remained at least half free and in allied hands.

The book is far more than just Halvorsen; it's the complete story of Berlin after WWII, as a shattered people began to regroup and eventually defy the Soviet Union's heavy-handed efforts to choke off Berlin from the West. It's the story of President Truman, more and more demonstrating the political skill that shaped him, the "accidental president," into one of the country's finest presidents. What a story: the Truman/Dewey campaigns for the presidency in 1948; the courage and savvy of Gen. Lucius Clay, who resisted all efforts to have Allies pull out of Berlin, once the blockade began. And Gen. Tunner, who shaped the at-first-haphazard airlift into a well-oiled machine that landed a transport every three minutes at the [eventually] three airfields in Allied hands and keep Berliners alive more more than a year, when the Soviets backed down. What a good book.

Oh, the booksigning in Cardston was just super. The weather was frightful, but that didn't stop folks from turning out on Ladies Night to buy lots of books. I love Canadians, especially Darren and Verena Beazer and their kids, and Sister Barb Niche. It was good to see my son, Jeremy, and celebrate his birthday on April 4 with a chocolate pie with meringue/walnut crust.

And then I drove by Garland, Utah, again on the return home, and gave a little salute to Hal Halvorsen. Nice to be reminded there are still heroes among us. (The Germans have never forgotten him. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Col. Halvorsen, still plenty spry, carried the German placard in front of the Olympic team. No, they haven't forgotten, and we shouldn't, either.)

Sorry I'm so long in catching up with the blog. I think about it a lot, and don't want to waste your time with inconsequentials.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Housekeeping, plus the Utah Legislature (something stinks)

Well, I call this housekeeping. Looks like my dance card is full with booksignings from now to the end of April.  This Saturday, March12, I'll be at the new Seagull Bookstore in Springville from 10 a.m. to noon. On Saturday, April 2, I'll be at the Book Shop in Cardston, Alberta for another signing. This one is especially fun, because it gives me an excuse to visit/stay with my son on the border in Montana. On Saturday, April 9, I'll be at the Deseret Book on 989 S. University in Provo. April 16 will find me at one Seagull Bookstore or another - Cedar Fort isn't sure which one yet. And somewhere there will be a Friday signing at another Seagull Bookstore.

Probably the most fun gig will be a Saturday, April 23 booksigning at the library in Mount Pleasant, Utah, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Megan Osmond called me to arrange it, and she said it's a grand reopening of the library, after a length renovation. I love to be in places where books are. She also told me that she finished Borrowed Light at 3 a.m. Monday morning. She said, "There in the living room, I gave you a standing ovation!" I laughed. She's arranging for the booksigning through Cedar Fort, and I'll be bringing along copies to sell of Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army, which was published in 2004 by Teacup (Texas Christian University Publications:TCUP).

The Cedar Fort folks wanted me to be at the BYU Bookstore the following Saturday, April 30, during Women's Week, but that's when I'll be in Fort Robinson, Nebraska, for the biennial gathering of Indian Wars scholars at a conference. I spoke one year, and a friend of mine is speaking this year, and it's a great chance to see my friends. We're a close-knit group. We all go to the same conferences (there arren't that many of us older specimens), have the same friends, etc. You get the drill. I never miss the Fort Rob gathering.

And good news from Amazon: Borrowed Light is now available on Kindle.

But here's what I want to talk about: politicians and human nature.

In 1972, it was Richard Nixon versus Senator George McGovern, Dem-S.D.  Nixon was a shoe-in for his second term, but Watergate rumblings had begun. A friend of mine convinced me to vote for McGovern, and I did. Well, Nixon won that by a landslide, as well all know, because few of us voted for McGov. But wait: there's more. Watergate happened, and Nixon resigned the presidency.

The strangest thing happened. Through the years, more and more people claimed that they voted for McGovern. (No one wanted to be associated with Nixon, of course.)  Some pundit humorously stated, years later, that if all the people who claimed to have voted for McGovern had actually done that, he'd have been elected!

So it goes, but what about that stinky bad bill HB477, that the Utah legisslature passed recently. Basically, the bill allows for much less transparency in what goes on in the state legislature: never a good idea, except for sneaky lawmakers. There is a special session coming up really soon to probably repeal it, mainly - or maybe only - because the good citizens of Utah ALL cried foul, and demanded it be repealed. Already, I have been amazed how many members of the legislature have been nimbly leaping away from their own complicity in initally signing that stinker. Pretty soon, nobody in the house or senate will have signed that bill, in the first place!  What we will see is the immaculate conception of bills in the Utah legislature. No one will have signed it, so it must have been a miracle that it passed and was signed into law by our guv.

I'll call this the Nixon/McGovern Syndrome. I think the legislators have felt the heat and realize they are in serious danger of being booted out of office, when their time comes to face irate voters. And sure enough, before it comes to that, every legislator will swear he/she never voted for it in the first place. Ah, yes, the Nixon/McGovern Syndrome in action. Oh, I do love politics.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the horror section?

If I think about this much longer, I'm certain my head will explode. It concerns a certain major store, prominent throughout the United States, and Canada. We will call it StallMart, just to give it a name. I think it was called Mega-Lo-Mart in "King of the Hill," which I always enjoyed.

The folks at StallMart were nice enough to arrange a booksigning for Borrowed Light last Saturday in Price, Utah, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.  The first sign of trouble happened the Thursday before the signing, when I dropped by the store to just make sure there were enough books on hand, since none of them seemed to be on the shelf in the LDS Book section.

When two assistant managers showed up to answer my questions, they told me that the main guy was out of town all week. When I asked about the books, neither man seemed to have the slightest idea what I was talking about. Oops. One of them thought there might be some books arriving on Friday, and he wandered off to find out. I left then, went home, and e-mailed Emily Showgren, the trusty PR lady at Cedar Fort. She promptly contacted the WalMart buyer, who said that 75 books would be delivered the next day.

When I checked on Friday, sure enough, there were books available. None were on the shelf, though. Maybe that was a new concept. I put up an "Author Signing" poster on an easel which Dave kindly located, and left it in the Customer Service section. And when I showed up at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, there was a table and chair inside the front entrance, near the bananas and the GloDomes, whatever they are. It was a good spot.

I think I signed between 25-30 books, and was OK, considering that there was a parade in downtown Price at noon that kept some potential buyers busy elsewhere. No matter. I was happy enough. (Didn't sell any GloDomes, though.)

On Monday in water aerobics, Mayzell mentioned that she had stopped by earlier that morning at StallMart to buy Borrowed Light off the shef, but there weren't any. She asked about it, then went back later, and found one, which I signed the next morning.

Wondering myself now, I stopped by Tuesday to see if there were any copies of Borrowed Light on the shelf. I figured there must have been at least 30 left over from the booksigning, so surely some would be on the shelf. Nothing (and don't call me Shirley). I checked with yet-another assistant manager, who had no idea. He did say there would be books on the shelf. When my daughter stopped in StallMart that evening, she couldn't find any.

I was in StallMart this morning to get some veggies, and went back to the book section just to see. Nothing. When I got home, I called the store and asked to speak to someone who knew something about the book section. She sent me to "Electronics." The lady who answered there didn't know anything. When I explained the situation, she said they had nothing to do with books. I suggested that some human had to put the books on the shelf, and she grudgingly agreed.  I told her the name of the book and the author, and she asked me to spell them. I spelled Borrowed and Light, and then she asked me if maybe the book was in the Horror section. I told her I sincerely hoped not, because it should have been shelved under LDS Books.

Here's all I can figure: Either Borrowed Light is selling like hotcakes and they can't keep them on the shelf, or no one has a clue at StallMart and only puts out one or two at a time, as the mood directs. I'm realistic enough to think it's probably the latter.

Ah, well. There's a booksigning at the new Seagull Books in Springville on Saturday, March 26, and one in Cardston, Alberta, on April 2, and I have high hopes for both. Randy Prete at the Book Shop in Cardston has already been in touch with me for a bio, so he can put it in an initial e-mail sent to all bookstore patrons. He's right on top of everything, and I'm grateful. There will be a Deseret Book signing at the DB store on South University in Provo on April 9. Maybe I'll have someone take a photo of me there so I can give a copy to the assistant managers at Price's StallMart and show them that the book exists.

I shoulda been a plumber.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Roads taken

I didn't mean to put bloggers on Big Ignore last week, but I was busy, driving from Wellington, Utah, to Waukesha, Wisconsin, and back again, to fetch my daughter, Liz. The original plan was to take a more leisurely trip and spend a little time with friends in Torrington, Wyoming, but Mom proposed, and daughter's cats disposed. Not to say that Mr. Pants and Flower weren't about as good as cats could be, cooped up in a minivan for three days - still, it was better to move along more quickly to avoid 1) incoming storms  2) kitty meltdowns.

The only bad weather happened where it could be expected to happen: in Wyoming behind Elk Mountain. Sure enough, there was about an hour's worth of blizzard - blizzard definition: cold (check), snow (check), wind (check).

Here's the deal with Elk Mountain. It's a big hunka mountain just west of Laramie, and I swear it makes its own weather. In the 1960s or '70s, when I-80 was going through southern Wyoming, the smart engineers in the project planned to build that stretch of highway at Elk Mountain lower than old highway 30. The locals advised the hotshots to reconsider, because doing that would mean a real problem with winter driving. In essence, the bigshot engineers patted Wyoming on its little head and said, "We're the experts. We'll put this highway lower and a bit straighter. It will save money in construction, and will shorten the travel along that stretch from Laramie west to Rawlins. We know best."

That's what happened. I-80 went through as the engineers planned. Big mistake. When the winter weather gets going, that hunk of interstate is just treacherous. Locals called it the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and wisely continued driving on old highway 30 from Laramie to Rawlins.

I took the Ho Chi Minh Trail on the way to Wisconsin, because I did want to save time. It was none too good then. On the way back, we were obviously headed into a winter storm and I did the smart thing and took Highway 30 above Elk Mountain. Yep, there was an hour of tense, watch-the-yellow-line driving, but then it cleared up and the road was fine. Even in the worst spots on Highway 30, I knew it was worse on I-80.

Sometimes it's good to stick to the tried and true path. Sometimes it's best to listen to the voices of experience, rather than the guys with slide rules (in those days) who only think they know, but who really don't know Wyoming as well as the veterans who have been driving that route for years.

Besides, when you take highway 30, you get to stop in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, the "home" of Owen Wister's 19th century Western (the first, maybe) called The Virginian. Liz and I stopped in Medicine Bow and went to the Virginian Hotel. The folks there are pleased to show off the really great old 1911 hotel's rooms. They're open for business, and plan to celebrate The Virginian Hotel's centenary in June of this year.

I'll be going through the area again in April, and I plan to spend a night at the Virginian Hotel, soaking in the atmosphere. Um, I hardly need state that there is no atmosphere on I-80 between Laramie and Rawlins. Sometimes you have to try the blue highways, instead. Safer, too, in the winter. And if you remember Wister's grand Western, you can think, "When you call me that, smile!"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Envelope Please

I'm in a motel in Evanston, Wyoming, on my way to Wisconsin, for a particular visit with my daughter, Liz. I just finished watching the Oscars by myself. Usually I'm with family members, but this is a trip I'm making by myself, and that's OK, too. I think the most fun I ever had at the Oscars was the night my daughter, Mary Ruth and I were in San Antonio at a motel, visiting my son/her brother Jeremy, who was going to UT-San Antonio. As I recall, we had Chinese takeout from HEB (oh, yes) and mostly enjoyed each other's company. I don't remember who won anything that year, but I'll remember this one, because Colin Firth won for playing King George VI, and he stuttered.

So do I. I always have. My stammer was more pronounced when I was younger, but I've never grown out of it. I've learned to breathe better and can accommodate it better, but the stammer is still there. I could totally and completely identify with Colin Firth's role in The King's Speech. I know the feeling of dread and desperation of having to speak, that Firth interpreted so well.

My dad was in the Navy (so was George VI), and we moved around every three years or so. This meant new schools and new opportunities to show off my stammer. Or so it seemed to me.  Given my own habits, I'd happily have stayed in the same place and never have to re-introduced myself every few years to new critics.  I remember the pain of having to read out loud in turn, because my stammer was always there. And sure enough, that first time would usually be followed by a visit to the school district's speech therapist. Nothing really made a difference. Visits to psychologists didn't make a difference, because stammers don't necessarily have psychological overtones. Now the consensus seems to be that stammers are caused by some synapse that doesn't click in the brain. Oh, well, whatever. It never affected my intellect and native cheery temperament.

But because we moved around, I always had to meet people. There would be laughs sometimes, but I'm a charming person and a good student, and I always had friends. I was never shunned or avoided because of my stammer, and I'm thankful for that, but it was always a black crow sitting on my shoulder, that only I could see, I suppose.

When I first heard about The King's Speech, I knew I would have to see it, no matter how far I had to go from my little rural home. I have always liked Colin Firth's performances, even when he played that thoroughly nasty royal in Shakespeare in Love. But it was my huge respect for King George VI that was always the main reason for seeing the movie, because I do what he did. I have to think that most of the world's stutterers feel the same way. It's nice to see one of our own get his due.

And what a king he was, even though he was a Navy officer, as he would have preferred to remain. King by default, he rose to soaring heights to lead his nation through the dark, dark years of World War II from 1939-1941, when England stood alone. He and his queen - they were best friends and lovers - reached out to their people. Those newsreels of the pair of them, strolling through blitzed out sections of London, were not done as cynical photo ops, but as a couple of Brits reaching out to other Brits. George and his queen remain stalwart role models of grace under extreme pressure - living examples of unflinching character in the face of the evils of Nazism.

What a man. What a king. A few years ago, my father, also a naval officer but in a diferent navy, gave me a coin from the Fiji Islands that he wore as a good luck charm in the South Pacific during his own war. It's a shilling, with 1942 and a turtle and Fiji Islands on the side, and King George VI on the other. I think I'll wear it more often now. My dad has always been my hero, and George VI is, too.

About my stammer. I've been slowly realizing in the last few years that as onerous as it was when I was younger, and even now occasionally, I don't think I would have changed a thing. Not one thing. What my stammer seems to have done for me is force me to listen more in silence, to learn how people act and speak, to listen to their stories, and build up an amazing vocabulary. All stammerers do that, I think, because we need lots of words. Some words are easier to say than others, so we learn a lot of words and their many meanings. And words are important to me and my characters.

I think The King's Speech is going to be my favorite motion picture for a long time. It almost feels like a personal victory. It gave a lot of us our own voice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I hate my coat

Spring may or may not be coming, so it's time to recycle a column I wrote when I worked for the Times-Record in Valley City, North Dakota. I've updated it a little, and doubt many of you have read it, unless you live in Valley City. I wrote four years-worth of columns, which probably ought to be published in one collection someday.

It ain't heavy; it's just ugly

I hate my coat. This is problem, because it's only February, and with this winter, it's possible that spring won't arrive for another six months.

I knew this was coming. I hated the same coat by the end of winter last year, but the darned thing refuses to wear out. I can't afford a new one. Even if I could, such wild extravagance would send all my Scots relatives spinning in their narrow, frugal graves.

I bought the thing in December of 2000, because I was heading to Washington, D.C., for research, courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and wanted a lighter coat for the warmer weather. I somehow thought denim would be lighter. It wasn't. In Washington, the denim coat didn't allow me to blend in with the natives, all of whom were wearing black in 2000. You'd have thought the District was a Johnny Cash convention with lobbyists. The other project researcher was a professor from North Dakota State University, and he wore his parka. We probably looked like Jean and Jerry Lundegaard from the movie, Fargo. You betcha.

If necessity had required that I wear the coat all year round, I would have worn it out sooner and replaced it. I've thought about leaving my coat somewhere, but it would probably come home like a cat, slinking up the driveway and flopping down on the porch.

Maybe I should name my coat. That simple act might have increased my affection. Years ago, my husband bought a used Buick, green and huge. We had five children at home then. In a pinch, I think we could all have lived in the trunk. Maybe even installed a hot tub.

Jeremy, in high school at the time, started calling that green machine "The Nimitz," after the aircraft carrier. We still remember The Nimitz with fondness, but what do you name a coat? Lester? Kiki?

To my relief (and probably everyone else's, who has to look at it), my coat is starting to wear out. I lost a button, which I haven't replaced yet. The cuffs are starting to fray, and it's getting shiny in the seat.

Still, there might be months and months to go until spring. Maybe I'll start a support group. Surely I'm not the only woman in the greater metropolitan Price/Wellington area who hates her coat. I'd offer to trade my dog of a coat to someone, but I'm too nice even to suggest that.

Something has to happen between now and summer, though, because I'm really starting to envy the German army of World War II. No irate, knee-jerk letters, please; hear me out. I know the Nazis were dirtbags. We historians - unless we work for Fox News - tend to look for the Big Picture. The Wehrmacht - the German army - was a bit different from the Nazis. The army had some remarkable commanders; the Nazis, not so much.

So here comes my guiltiest secret of all: I've long been an admirer of those sexy, ankle-length overcoats that German army officers wore. No army looked better than the German Army in wintertime, with those overcoats and shiny boots. It was Wehrmacht haute couture: warm coats, well-cut coats, grey double-breasted, kick ass coats with shiny buttons.

A few years ago, I taught a university course in modern European history. We spent some class time watching World War II newsreels, and I did a lot of reading. I invariably ended up at Stalingrad, a frightful slugfest on the Volga River that may have been the turning point of the war in Europe. Other historians point to the tank battle the following summer at Kursk, but it all is intertwined.

Of his namesake city, Stalin declared the Germans would not move beyond it. On the other side, Hitler said the German Army would never retreat. Between August 1942 and February 1943, two huge armies struggled by that bend in the Volga River, literally fighting room to room in the massive factories. (For a look at this, watch the 2001 movie, Enemy at the Gates, or the even better 1993 German film, Stalingrad.) The Soviets and citizens of Stalingrad gave new meaning to the word stubborn.

When it ended, the Wehrmacht's entire Sixth Army, bled white and starving, surrendered to victorious Soviets, who marched the 91,000 survivors to prison camp. Years passed. Fewer than 5,000 of those Germans ever returned to their homeland.

There is a terrible newsreel of a German POW walking by himself to internment and probable death. His beautiful grey overcoat is in shreds and he is wearing boxes on his bare feet because he has no fancy boots.

Suddenly, that coat I hate so well doesn't look too bad.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Water, water everywhere

I was looking at computer news last night, and there was the big article I'd been dreading but knew was coming: It looks like another bad flood year for the northern plains.

We left Valley City, North Dakota, in July of 2009, after Martin retired from teaching at the university there. We moved to Wellington, Utah, which is pretty much in the desert. We bought a little house that had a basement, but one which showed no signs of water damage. We'd been living in a lovely town in Nodak that turned into Flood Trauma Central, after a long, long snowy winter. It was a winter/spring where no one had seen Sheyenne River flood predictions that high since the 1880s, and no one was alive who remembered it. We didn't want to go through that again.

The Sheyenne River, normally beautiful and peaceful, winds through Valley City, turning it into what is known as "The City of Bridges." That spring of 2009 it was a monster. We had a smart and savvy mayor, Mary Lee Nielson, who started hauling dirt early. For a solid month, from early morning to late at night, big trucks rumbled through town, building makeshift dikes along the river. Almost everyone lives near the river in Valley City, and we were no exception.

Valley City State University is right on the river. Dikes went up, as well as dikes inside of dikes. The same thing was going on, on a larger scale, in Fargo, and in other towns. Most of the rivers in the area dump into the Red River of the North, which flows through Fargo and north into Canada. The rivers all rise at different times, and do their damage. Fargo went first, and we followed, as did Jamestown to the east of us, on the James River.

Soon all the bridges in Valley City were blocked off with dirt, except one, so people could still get in and - more important - out, if the need came. It used to be such a treat to drop down off the gently rolling prairie and into our little valley. Now our little valley was filling up with sandbags, dirt dikes, and that ever-growing Sheyenne River.

The university was finally shut down about a month before graduation, because it was just too dangerous to expose students living along the river to potential hazard. VCSU is the first university in the nation to go entirely wired and laptop, so kids were able to finish their classes online at a distance. It was my husband's last semester of teaching, and his final play of his career was cancelled two days before it opened, because the university closed. Sigh.

The public school system closed, too, mainly because as the water kept rising, the sewer collapsed. Mary Lee told everyone to evacuate, and many of us did. Our grandson, Noah, was living with us that year and going to junior high. We called friends in Fargo (their flood was receding) and asked if we could refugee to their house. They said sure, so we did. Gov. John Hoeven send out a statewide APB for us and towns like ours that were in trouble to send kids to school anywhere in the state. The state would pick up the book and lunch tab. Noah - um, what an appropriate name for the time - went to school in neighboring Maple Valley.

After about a week of this, we returned home. Our mayor had arranged for Porta Potties to be hauled into Valley City. The deal was, we could use all the water we wanted, but none of it could go down those drains. Hence, the portable johns. We met our neighbors in new and different ways for a few weeks, until an over-the-street pipe was jury-rigged to take sewage. In our house, we plugged the bathtub and took extremely brief showers, where the water fell into a bucket, which we dumped outside the front door. The rest of the water was drained by a shop vac and then dumped outside.

So it went for awhile. People in the northern plans are highly resourceful, and we managed. It makes my heart ache to think they're going to have to go through all that again. Valley City was mostly spared that year, and again in 2010. I say mostly, because many outlying homes along the river went under. I know they are worrying about this spring, which threatens to be as bad as 2009, if not worse. And I worry, too, because I love Valley City and the wonderful folks who live there.

Water is a funny thing - we need it, we like it, but it can turn on us. Right about when we think we can master it, water has a way of reminding us that we aren't in charge and never will be.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Whose life is this anyway?

On the way to water aerobics, Vondell and I pass a white house with a Utah Highway Patrol car on the curb. Sometimes he's there, suggesting that he works nights, and sometimes he's  not, suggesting shift changes. It interests me, because my son is in law enforcement and happens to be pulling a month of night duty right now. I am also in the habit of "creating" people's lives. It's the curse or blessing of the novelist.

Vondell and I have created our own fiction about the highway patrolman. A few weeks ago, when the black pickup was gone, and the cop car was in the driveway, we decided that maybe she had left in a huff and taken the kids with her. There was his lonely car, parked where the pickup usually was. Maybe he was inside on the telephone, pleading with her to come home.  A week later, when we saw the pickup back, and the patrol car, too, we figured they had made up. It's hard to be a law enforcement wife; maybe she needed a break.

Usually, the pattern seems to be that we'll see his patrol car on the curb and the black pickup in the driveway when we head to water aerobics. When we drive by an hour later, the patrol car is usually still there, and the pickup is gone, suggesting to our nosey minds that she is at work somewhere, and he gets to sleep in peace and quiet, after a night spent keeping Highway 6 relatively crime-free.

But today is Valentine's Day. We noticed on our return drive-by that his patrol care was still there, and so was the black pickup, suggesting, well, you know what it was suggesting. We both laughed and hoped the lovebirds had a good Valentine's Day. Even cops need love.

Vondell and I think we should find some subterfuge to knock on the door and see who actually lives there. We're too old to be selling Girl Scout cookies, so that won't work, and neither of us looks much like a meter reader. Maybe we need to rein in our imaginations. I just hope that we don't drive by some morning and see the patrol car gone and another car there, along with the black pickup. I'd hate to have to bang on the door and stage an intervention...

Or maybe we should drive down a different street and leave the poor cop alone.

Friday, February 11, 2011

How do I love museums

First, thank you, Amazon, for removing the crazy review. Nuff said.

Last May, for my birthday, my husband asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, "Go to the Mining and Railroad Museum in Helper." (Helper's a small town at the mouth of Price Canyon, about 14 miles from where I live.) I am a cheap date.

We went to the museum, and I started volunteering about a month later. What a cool place. It's a museum housed one of the old hotels (1914, I think), with a new annex. This winter, I've been doing research for the museum on an exhibit we're building called "The Shady Side of Helper."

Helper was a mining and railroad hub, with an active life between 1900 and 1950. And I do mean active. Miners came from all over the world to work the mines in Carbon County. Helper even had a Japanese boarding house, and Kabuki Theatre was performed when traveling troopes went through. Kabuki in Helper: hard to imagine.  There were Poles, Slovenians, Italians, Cypriots, Welsh of course, Greeks (many) - a whole United Nations of miners in Helper and Price, and the numerous coal camps.

Helper was a hard-living town, with brothels and bordellos catering to the male population, many of them single men far from home. The main street was lined with hotels, many of which had brothels on the second floor. In fact, the last brothel in Helper was shut down in 1976.  Saloons there were aplenty. I've been researching the prohibition era, and the law of the land doesn't seem to have made much of an impact on Helper.

In the interest of research and the museum, the director, Stephanie Fitzsimons (neat, neat lady), and I went to that former brothel (second floor, of course) and took photos. The building now belongs to the E Clampus Vitus Society - not sure what they do, but there seems to be alcohol involved and considerable conviviality - and the owner kindly let us see the second floor. Some of the rooms have been restored, with vivid wallpaper. Others still sport their original, rather garish paint of the Pepto-Bismal variety, or a flamboyant green that made me wince. I think there were some ten rooms on that second floor. The last madam's name was Babe, and she was a respected businesswoman in Helper.

A wicked past dies hard in conservative Utah. In 1965, when I was a freshman at Brigham Young University in Provo, the tame side of the state, we were advised not to cross the mountains to Carbon County and Price or Helper, because of the "evils" there. Oh, well. I really like living in Carbon County. There air is crisp and clear here, and I like summer's desert climate. Of course, humidity is so low that alligators have soft skin, compared to mine.

Helper was such a lively little town in former days. There are still plenty of mines in the area, but the ones closest to Helper have closed and been reclaimed. Now Helper is trying to reinvent itself as an artists' colony, and doing rather well. There is an annual artists' event in the summer that attracts those who paint and sculpt and those of us who buy, or wish we could (this would be moi).

I'm writing the copy and labels for the Shady Side of Helper exhibit. Last week was prohibition, and this week will be the "sporting ladies." Then it's on to saloons and gambling.  Gee, I guess Carbon County is corrupting me, after all. I volunteer once a week at the museum, and call it good.

In cause you're wondering, Helper was named after the helper engines: additional engines put onto a train - front, back and in the middle - to help the coal trains get over Soldier Summit, altitude 7,400 feet. Even today, it's quite a sight to see four engines in the front, six or more in the middle, and another two on the end of a coal train, all engines revved up and schlepping coal from one side of the state to the other.

If you're around and visit the museum, be sure to ask for your gift: a lump of coal. We have them neatly bagged with a little history about the area. I think some folks collect them for stockings, right before Christmas.

Actually, Carbon County is one of Utah's well-kept secrets. I like it here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Scary time

Ooh, boy, the nuts are out. I thought I was prepared for reader angst that I'm not writing Regency Rmances anymore, and have decided to focus more on LDS-themed novels. I was wrong. There are only four reviews up on Amazon right now, and three are decidedly unhappy. That's OK; it's my choice to do what I'm doing.

But there is one that crossed the line, from Susan M. Choyce. She titled her review, Goodbye, Ms. Kelly! She freely expressed her disappointment and obvious dislike of Mormons, and that's her choice and privilege in a free society. She concluded by comparing my Regencies to Georgette Heyer's, which is high praise, indeed.

Trouble is, she ended this way: " you are both dead and gone. Farewell."

Frankly, that creeped me out, and sounded more than a bit unbalanced. Attacking my book is one thing, but wishing me dead and gone is quite another. I e-mailed Amazon immediately, explained the situation, and asked that they remove that review. I don't know if they can or will, but it scared me. So it goes.

On a much, much lighter note, Vondell (my water aerobics friend) and I went upstate to Orem today. She had a doctor's appointment at 11 a.m.  We are power shoppers and we had an hour to spend wisely before the appointment. We dropped in at the Distribution Center to buy a little white dress for her granddaughter. Since Vondell is raising her granddaughter and has adopted her, she is going to be sealed to her soon in the Manti Temple.

Next we powered over to Michael's, where I got a basket for my office and she tried to find gourds (no luck; wrong season). We made it to her appointment with 15 minutes to spare, and then we powered over to the Cinemark and saw the noon showing of The King's Speech. What a movie. Yes, there's some bad language, but it's integral to the plot. Not a wrong note anywhere in cast, script, direction, costumes.

I left the theatre with a renewed appreciation for Colin Firth (all right, girls: we know we loved him in Pride and Prejudice), and King George VI, a monarch with a stammer who became the symbol of the stalwart British nation during World War II. I've seen pictures of the king and his queen walking through bombed out rubble and chatting with their subjects, after a long night of air raids and destruction. What panache; what a king. It's a superb movie.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Torches and pitchforks

I'm afraid some of my long-time readers are breaking out the torches and pitchforks, because I seem to be abandoning the Regency. If it's any comfort to them, I have another Regency coming out sometime this year, called Choosing Rob Inman (at least until the publisher decides to call it something else). I'm finishing a three-story Christmas anthology that follows a family from the Regency era, to the Crimean War, to the Indian Wars in the U.S. Then my last novel for Harlequin on my current three-book contract is a novel set at Fort Laramie during the Great Sioux War, 1876-1877. (This should be fun. My personal favorite book is Here's to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army, which contains many of my Fort Laramie stories. I worked there for several years as a park ranger, and it's a spot dear to my heart.)

And then it's on to two books for Cedar Fort, the first due in November, and the next one due in August, 2012, I think. It'll be a busy year.

I can assure you it's a little scary to be branching out into something besides Regencies, but it's also a pleasant change for me. I feel that if I keep writing Regencies, I'm going to get stale. There is only so much I want to say about that interesting era.

Since we moved to Utah in 2009, I've found myself fascinated all over again by my own kind, the LDS kind. There are plenty of competent LDS writers, and I think I'll have a good time in a new arena. I'll be 64 in May, but I have lots to write yet.  Readers are welcome to join me, and I hope some will. Readers are certainly free to choose what they want to read, and I suspect writers like that same freedom to write what they want to write.

I truly understand that tendency of readers to want what they're comfortable with. I do the same thing in my own reading. I really like crime fiction, and would be aghast if Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Peter Robinson and James Lee Burke abandoned their tried and true characters. But having said that, Connelly did branch out a bit with Micky Haller, a defense lawyer, and Crais seems to be focusing more on Joe Pike. I'm fine with that.

So we shall see. I'm still pecking away at my computer, with a smile on my face.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cowboys, gotta love them

Bidness first again: that Authorpalooza on Saturday at the Barnes and Noble in Sandy's South Towne Center, from 1-4. I have to chuckle about the event. I assured Emily Showgren at Cedar Fort that I would be at any and all events requested, but ONLY if it's not snowing at Soldier Summit. At 7,700 feet and with a little snow and wind action, it looks like Everest. When Emily e-mailed me yesterday, she mentioned that it looked like good weather at the Summit. Hope she's right, because I plan to be at the B&N as scheduled.

I'll probably drive over listening - and singing along - to cowboy music. I'm not a country/western fan - wait, I take that back. For some weird reason that I have never understood, I listened to Country Music Television during the year I was writing my thesis. I'd get home from class and work, turn on CMT, and start writing. For another weird reason, I wrote that sucker in long hand. Don't know why. Well, maybe I do. Taking time, slow page by slow page, meant a good thesis. I haven't listened to CMT since, though. (Want to know the world's greatest pick up line among historians? "Hey, I read your thesis." No joke. Someone told me that. He's still a friend.)

But I do like cowboy music. My favorite singers are Michael Martin Murphey and Ian Tyson. MMM came to my attention recently. Last fall, he did a benefit concert in Angel Fire, New Mexico, for a Catholic school, I believe. My son Sam owns the Sunset Grille at Angel Fire, and told me that MMM was going to have dinner at his restaurant. As it turns out, he didn't, but I had sent Sam a copy of Here's to the Ladies: Stories ofthe Frontier Army, for Mr. Murphey. A little while later, Sam told me that MMM's hostess started reading the book, and gave it to him reluctantly. MMM very kindly autographed a CD for me ("Lone Cowboy") and sent it to me via his hostess.

I was so pleased that I sent another copy of Here's to the Ladies, to the hostess, whose name I can't recall. Whereupon she sent me another MMM-autographed CD called "Cowboy Blues." (At least, I think that's the title. I'd go out to my van and take a look at the title, but it's about 19 degrees out right now and my house is warmer.)

I told my son to let me know when MMM is in Angel Fire again. I'll happily drive that 8 1/2 hours, just to hear him sing in person. I might make him some of my world-class Cowboy Cookies, which have a certain fame in National Park Service circles.

Lest you think I'm not sufficiently cultured, I also enjoy Puccini operas, Handel's stuff, and just about anything by Bela Bartok. But when I want to sing along, it's to Michael Martin Murphey and Ian Tyson, my favorite Canadian singin' stockman. The older folks among us - that would be moi - might remember him from his Ian and Sylvia, folksinging days.

I like Murphey's song, "Vanishing Breed." It has a closing line, something about: "We're not vanishing. We're just hard to see from the Interstate." That's what I like, too. I-70 is 60 miles to the south and east, while I-15 is some 60 miles north and west. Perfect.

Hope I'm not boring you with this, but I have another favorite cowboy, besides Mr. Paul Otto. I knew him as Mr. Kaiser. He was a cowboy in Cody, Wyoming, my dad's home town, and a friend of my grandparents. Mr. Kaiser and his wife had settled down on a small farm just outside of town. I remember many a summer day when he'd ride his beautiful black horse to my grandparent's house, and tap on Grandma's kitchen window. She'd open it, and he'd lean in and hand her a quart of cream.

The Christmas I was four, Dad was in Thailand during the Korean War, and we were living with the grandparents in Cody. One of my Christmas presents was a little farm. There was a cowboy figure about two inches high. I named him Mr. Kaiser, and kept him for years. Yep. I love my cowboys, starting with Mr. Kaiser.

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.