The Wedge of the San Rafael

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

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I hereby resolve...

I should resolve to be more prompt with blogs, but I have to tell you that's not going to happen. I'm still not convinced that anyone particularly cares what I do, so I face 2013 with the same amount of skepticism I ended with in 2012.

Some fun things did happen before Christmas. I grudgingly agreed to do a few booksignings at some Seagull store, and I did have a good time, or what passes for a good time at a booksigning. I'm well aware that most royalties for authors, at least authors of fiction, are generated through ebook sales. With that in mind, what's the point of booksignings? The "grudgingly" part comes because we're never quite sure about the weather in the canyon between Carbon County and the rest of Utah. It can be the white knuckle express.

And yet. On December 22, I had a lovely encounter with two readers, Amy the mother and Dondy the daughter, whom I had met at a fun bookclub meeting last summer in Mapleton, Utah. They like to read, and they both enjoyed My Loving Vigil Keeping, to the point of wanting to visit Scofield Cemetery in the spring, when the snow is eventually gone.

Dondy did say she probably won't make the trip, because she's expecting twins in spring.  She's having a girl and a boy, and here's the part that we laughed over: She's almost convinced her husband that the boy should be named Owen, after the hero in Vigil Keeping. I was tickled. I'll have to ask her if I can attend her son and daughter's blessing.  She said she wasn't making any headway on getting her husband to agree to Angharad for their daughter, though.

Amy and Dondy stayed and chatted a while and we all had fun. Heavens, I hated to see them leave, because not only are they charming, but they were calling over browsers in the bookstore and telling them to buy my books! I told them I'll have to take them on all booksignings.

I'm about halfway done with Safe Passage, a novel set in 1912, after the Mormons have been ejected from their Mexican colonies by the Mexican Revolution. Our hero has to return and find his wife. Safe Passage is the working title, but could change.

For those of you who are interested, Signet has released The Lady's Companion as an ebook. This was my second Rita Award-winner, and a bit of a ground breaker. My Signet editor claimed it was one of the few books where the heroine "slides" and finds her true love in the bailiff on the estate where she is functioning rather poorly as a lady's companion to the widow of a Peninsular War hero. According to my editor, what usually happened was the lady would discover that her lover was really a duke or marquis in disguise, and not a lowly bailiff. Nope. I never mess around like that. David Wiggins is a bailiff. He was a thief, a rascal, a bastard, a sergeant major reformed by the aforementioned widow.

And if you're still interested, CamelPress in Seattle has just reissued Miss Whittier Makes a List, another moldy-oldy Signet. This is reissued as paperback and ebook. Hannah is a Quaker miss, bound for Charlestown, South Carolina, from Nantucket. When her ship is blown out of the water by a French privateer she becomes the unwilling guest of the Royal Navy.

Here's the funny thing about Miss Whittier: I wrote in in 19th century Quaker-speak, of course, which some well-intentioned but boneheaded copy editor turned into Elizabethan English. I spent a lot of time changing it back to Quaker-speak and convincing Signet that really knew what I was doing.

Well. When I finish Safe Passage by the end of January, I'll return to the high seas for another Harlequin Historical. Not sure what the title is yet, and the plot is barely there, but I'll have fun, and hopefully you will, too, if you're not opposed to reading a more va-va-voom book. After that, I'm off to the Double Cross again in the royal colony of New Mexico. I do get around.

Happy New Year to all of you. I'll try to resurface in a couple of weeks, and I will try to be more prompt with answering comments.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Just a very little

If any of you are in/near Salt Lake City on Saturday, December 8, I'm having a booksigning at the Seagull Bookstore in Fashion Place Mall. I'm going to have a drawing for some of my hand creams. I'll probably bring along a jar of Christmas Splendor, and maybe one of Beau Brummel. The Beau's hand cream seemed appropriate for the Regency era, of course. I think it smells a bit like London men's clubs.

I started making soap, hand lotion and hand  cream this fall, and boy howdy, is it great stuff. Bath & Body Works isn't getting another dime from me. I emailed a friend about it, and she's getting a jar of Bay Rum hand cream for her Sam. It's Mr. Otto's favorite, as well as any number of my nautical guys. Maybe cuz I like it. My soap is still pretty homely, but it lathers well, and does the job.

I have another booksigning in Helper, Utah, on December 15, at the Western Mining and Railroad Museum, from noon to 3 p.m. The museum will be selling My Loving Vigil Keeping, since it's about coal mining. Then on Saturday, December 22, at the Seagull Bookstore in Sprngville, Utah, from 11-2, I'll have another booksigning. That will round out 2012. January will see - sort of - me getting cataract surgery, and there are three bookclubs where I'll be speaking, too.

Now it's back to Safe Passage, where Ammon Hancock is having the darnedest time finding his wife.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's war

Oh my word, editors are even more corn-fusing than readers. Let me walk you through my encounter with an editor at Penguin Random House yesterday. (Signet is a Penguin imprint.)

a few years ago, Signet asked me to return my copywrites for those 16 traditional Regencies I wrote for them years ago, to reissue now as ebooks. I have been parceling them out to three publishers – Cedar Fort, Camel Press in Seattle, and back to Signet. Signet has reissued several of these now, and they look fine.

The dilemma is The Wedding Journey, a novel set in 1812 Spain when Marching Hospital #8 (think MASH unit) is trying to make it to safety behind the lines of Torres Vedras in Portugal. It’s a tough little story, with  appealing characters. Research was fun beyond belief, but a challenge, because it's hard to find good stuff about combat medicine in the Napoleonic Wars.

In late November, my Signet editor (she’ll remain nameless) sent me a proposed cover copy for the ebook of The Wedding Journey. It’s lovely – a handsome barouche with wedding flowers all over it. The only problem is that it reflects absolutely nothing that happens in the novel. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Here was her first email on Nov. 20: “I’m attaching the cover we’ve created for THE WEDDING JOURNEY here!”

My reply: “Well, it’s pretty, but has absolutely nothing to do with the book, set in Spain when the army is retreating and evacuating a mobile hospital. Could you try again?”

Her reply the name day: “It is a fine line because there isn’t really art that will show those particulars of the plot. Do you think that something less fancy like a bouquet of flowers would work better?

My reply: “I would probably put a wedding bouquet on a cannon. That would give a better idea of the novel.”

Fast forward now to November 27. From my editor:
“I’ve discussed this with our editorial director and we both feel that the cover is a nice mix of the wedding theme and the war elements of the story. How else can we portray that kind of detail without making an ugly cover? And I prefer this very striking cover to the landscape covers which are getting generic for the Regencies at this point.

Additionally, I want to remind you that you and I worked very hard to completely rewrite The Wedding Journey copy [she’s referring to the original back cover blurb] so it accurately reflects the storyline – which the original copy mostly glossed over. When we have the accurate copy available on the etailer page with this striking cover, I think it presents a very intriguing package for readers. Do you agree?

Please let me know your thoughts!”

By now, I see what’s going on. They have no intention of changing that cover, but they want me to be happy, happy with it. I mean, I have to be happy. Jeez Louise.

My reply: “It doesn’t matter what I think, because obviously no one’s going to change that cover. It’s lovely for a wedding in the British countryside, but not for what the book is about. I just don’t care anymore.”

And I didn’t. I know when I’m licked.

Her response:
“Hi Carla,

We absolutely want you to be happy with your cover. Is there a time tomorrow you’re free to chat so I can get a better idea of what you’d like?

Realistically, I don’t think we’ll be able to find the art for something like a cannon with flowers on it or the army tent background that I know you had originally suggested. But we can talk through some other scenes.  [She invited me to look at other covers they had done for ebooks, and I dutifully did.] Let me know if there is a good time and number to reach you!”

Numb by now, I gave her a good time to call me and my number. This morning, I figured out a perfect solution: just use two silhouettes of a man and a woman looking at each other. Just the heads. I nosed around on the Interwebs and found exactly what she can use.

This is the email I sent this morning:
“Jesse, here’s your dilemma: I looked through that blurb copy, which now actually gives away a bit too much about The Wedding Journey, but which is better than the original. If you insist on keeping your drawing of a barouche and flowers, which never once appear in the novel, it also doesn’t match in any way the new, improved copy. Believe me, I understand the issue here: no one can spend any money on these covers. Here’s a workable solution and one that surely the art editor can find by just looking around on the Internet. I did it this morning. Use two silhouettes, one a man with slightly curly hair (I found of those), and a woman. Silhouettes were all the rage in Regency England. Just use two silhouettes. That gets us around the barouche and flowers which have absolutely no place in the novel, and the back cover, which talks about war in Spain. Two silhouettes. And if you can’t find two silhouettes, then one silhouette of a woman. Simple.”

I didn’t hold out much hope, but I think I’ve been proved wrong. Here’s the email I got later this morning:

“Thanks so much for your feedback. We think we’ve incorporated your suggestions into these new concepts, while still keeping the overall look that our Art and Marketing departments have created to brand the Regency releases. We want them clearly visually branded as Signet Regencies with this art style, which is why design options are so limited. I’m attaching the original artwork and two options more in the tone of the story. I think the second incorporates your silhouette request really strongly, and both steer clear of traditional bridal flowers or themes. Let me know what you think?”

I think they’ve done it. The open road and the lowering clouds really fit the book. Generically, the landscape could easily be Spain. I honestly did not think Signet would try to find a solution. It’s nice to be proved wrong. I emailed back and told her that the open road and lowering clouds really fit the tone of the novel.
So, dear readers, if you have a hankering to be published in the national and international publishing world, do be careful what you wish for. Dealing with editors who are convinced and won’t bend are as numbing as some readers who are wicked mean. But now and then, there’s a glimmer that they really do want me to be (ahem) happy. And I am. They could just as easily have left that #^&^% barouche and flowers on a Spanish battlefield.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dagnabbit, but I'm disgusting

Sometimes, readers make my back molars throb. This morning I was snooping around on Amazon and reading a few readers' comments about my books. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a real doozy. Boy howdy, was it mean-spirited. It was for Marriage of Mercy, that Harlequin that no one at Harlequin read because the title and back blurb have zippo, zilch, nada to do with the book. All in all, it's a pretty good read.

Ooh, not to someone named Tyson. She gave it one star, and the title line of her review was "Disgusting." The first sentence was "Carla Kelly is disgusting." Well, that got my attention. Some folks think I'm tolerable. Anyway, she didn't like the book because it was way too sexy for her tastes (umm, it's not that bad). I was supposed to be known as an LDS writer, so how dare I do that?

I don't generally respond to icky stuff like that, but I did this time. I thought I was reasonable. You judge:

"Tyson, I don't usually comment on book reviews, but I take exception to character assassination. I'm not primarily known as an LDS writer; that's your fiction. I wrote some 30+ Signets and Harlequins before I started writer for a more LDS audience [should have added 'on occasion']. I currently write for three publishers. If you want to review a book, fine. I can take that; poor reviews are part of the job. If you felt Grace was pathetic, that's certainly your choice. But to call me disgusting is rude and unmannerly. I would never call you disgusting. I don't know you and it would be the height of rudeness to make such a comment about you. You might be interested to know that when Borrowed Light came out, my first LDS-themed novel, a reader used to my other books wrote a death threat. Amazon kindly removed it. So I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Just watch your language when you attack writers rather than books."

Writing for a variety of publishers is a ticklish situation, granted. That rather odd phrase "clean read" gets bandied about a lot in Mormon fiction. Before my foray into LDS fiction - something I don't read much - I never had heard that term. I currently owe two Regencies to Harlequin over the next 18 months or so. And there's that delightful publishing company in Seattle willing to let me try my hand at historical crime fiction. I probably still have a few more books in me for LDS-themed fiction, too. I'm toying with a sequel to My Loving Vigil Keeping. (I mean, I know what's going to happen to Della and Owen, so maybe I should share it.)

Maybe my books should come with a warning label: Harlequins are PG-13; ditto The Double Cross from Camel Press; early Signets are mostly PG; Cedar Fort's books are PG. That could satisfy readers who get their knickers in a twist when characters do more than hold hands.

So let the reader beware, I suppose. Just don't call me disgusting. Some folks think I'm fun to be around. I'm sure Tyson is a nice person. Even if she/he weren't, I wouldn't be so cruel.

Back to Safe Passage, a book I'm writing about the Mormon Exodus from Mexico in 1912. This could be a bit tough for Tyson, too, because the main character and his wife are estranged and have real issues to work through, as they try to avoid getting killed by guerillas in Mexico. Disgusting ol' Carla Kelly has fun.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday

It's Black Friday and I'm going to the store. Don't try to stop me. We're out of milk. Then I'll go home and write.

What happened to Thanksgiving? I was going to just bite my tongue and not write anything about this big fat travesty where people bolt down their turkey or whatever it is people eat now on Thanksgiving, then go stand in line for five hours at Toys 'R Us so they can buy something a few dollars off the usual price.  According to the Deseret News, one woman also rented a moving van to carry away all this swag. Jeez Louise.

Maybe I'm a bit grouchy because our younger son didn't make it here for Thanksgiving. I'd been looking forward to seeing him, but he felt he didn't get enough time off from work for the drive. He asked me if I was mad, and I told him no, but that I was disappointed because I wanted to see him. And that's true. Plans change. We still had a nice Thanksgiving.

I had my own fun by watching that high-larious WKRP in Cincinnati episode about the turkey promotion. No one was better at comic timing than Gordon Jump who gave that immortal line (wait for it, wait for it): "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." Ah, yes.

My personal Thanksgiving moment came as it usually does. I thought about the special kind of courage it took to get into a ship - a small one - and sail across an ocean to land on a shore no one of them had ever seen, and at a rough time of year. I'm forever grateful that the Separatists also took the time to draw up a compact that set out some simple rules for survival. It was the first governing document for Plymouth Colony and served notice that social order would be the rule of the day. Thank you, gentlemen.

My real Thanksgiving epiphany came about ten years ago, in December. I had flown to Charleston, South Carolina, to see my son graduate from the U.S. Border Patrol Academy. After the ceremony, he and his classmates (half of the ones they started with) flew out immediately to their posts. I had a few days to kill before my flight home, so I drove to St. Augustine, Florida, for a little research, and then back to St. Simons Island, Georgia, where I had spent some of my happiest childhood time.

I drove to Fort Frederica National Monument, built between 1736 and 1748 by James Oglethorpe. He had been sent to form the buffer colony of Georgia, to protect the more-valuable Carolinas from Spanish Florida. There are remnants of a few buildings - the barrack, the magazine, the fort itself - and foundations. The old moat is now a grassy swale. It's a lovely spot.

Ordinarily, Georgia isn't too cold in early December, but it was chilly that year, and there was a brisk wind making it colder. After a stop in the visitors center, I walked through the village down what I believe was called Orange Street. I walked to the edge of the village, past many foundations, and past the fort, until I was standing on the shore of the Frederica River.

I was the only visitor that early morning. I only had to stand there a little while to "get it."  If there had been trouble from Spanish Florida, and they did have some serious trouble in 1742, there was no help anywhere - no thundering cavalry to ride over the hill and save the day; no way to get a message through quickly to Charleston that gee, we're in a tight bind here. These inhabitants, soldiers and settlers, had to rely entirely on themselves. The only thing between them and disaster was, well, them.

It took real courage to be a Separatist, or a Pilgrim, or a settler on a remote Georgia island. Faith was a real component, too: faith in themselves and each other, and faith in God who wouldn't desert them in times of desperation.

I've not certain I'm that brave, but I like to think about it on and around Thanksgiving. It's more important to know what's inside my mind and heart than how much money I can save on a driveable pink Power Wheels car. I'm getting a little worried about some of my fellow Americans. If we forget our past, we'll be in our own tight bind.

So this is my shout-out to those hardy souls who had that special courage it took to scratch a foothold on the absolute edge of a mighty continent. I remember you, even if fewer and fewer Americans do. Maybe as long as some of us remember, it will be enough. But I'm worried.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One Good Turn

Sometimes readers are hard to please, and never more so than now, when I'm writing for three different publishers. "We need a sequel to My Loving Vigil Keeping," some will insist. Others want more Julia and Mr. Otto. The only sequels I can guarantee right now are the ones to follow The Double Cross, my historical mystery set in colonial New Mexico, which comes out in June. I'm contracted to write at least three more of those. To put a finer point on this, they are more part of a series than sequels.

I'm not one to write many sequels. Enduring Light is only the second, in a writing career that spans a bunch of years since the first novel in 1984. The first sequel was One Good Turn, now available, as of this week, in ebook from Signet's electronic arm (ouch, that sounds strange). The need for "Good Turn" was made amply plain to me by readers disgruntled after they finished Libby's London Merchant, also in ebook now.

"Libby" was a triangle, with two men vying for the attentions of the heroine, Libby Ames, a sweet thing living on her uncle's estate in Kent. A number of readers thought I had her marry the wrong man. I am still convinced that was not the case; besides, who should know better than the author? The Duke was just not good enough at the time: a drunken care-for-nobody, neglectful of the men who served under him at Waterloo, and not willing to make Libby his wife. (He had other ideas.)

But everyone loves a rake, I suppose. Or mostly everyone; I don't, really. There were enough redeeming qualities about Benedict Nesbitt, Duke of Knaresborough, to make him a charming character. I succumbed, but not until ten years after "Libby" was published. The result was One Good Turn.

I'm glad I waited ten years to write that sequel, because I was a better writer in 2001, when I wrote One Good Turn. By then, I  also knew more about the Peninsular Wars in Spain and Portugal, and the Royal Navy fighting on the high seas and in the English Channel. The third siege of strategic Badajoz was a nasty business, even in a nasty war. If Nez is really going to reform, he has to go through his own trial by fire. I knew the heart of this story of redemption had to have its center in that third siege.

I downloaded One Good Turn and glanced at it a few mornings back. I don't think I've read it since I wrote it in 2001, so it was almost a rediscovery. I wouldn't change a word of it. War is as terrible today as it was in 1812. What happened to the women and young girls of Badajoz shouldn't have happened to dogs. It was the same terrible suffering that went on after Russian troops entered Berlin in 1945, or what happened over and over in Kosovo or Rwanda.

I suppose new readers of mine who prefer unicorns and roses will be horrified by One Good Turn. If you're squeamish, don't read it. But if you like realism and understand the psychology of suffering, you'll like the novel. Does everything turn out all right? Of course; it's a Regency romance. I must agree with Thomas Hardy, though: there's nothing wrong with a happy ending, as long as people learn something along the way. You know, kind of like life.

I owe a real debt to Ruth Cohen, my former agent. When I quit writing for Signet and started writing for another publisher, she told me to get my copywrites back for those 16 Signet Regency romances. It took a while - publishing houses are not well-organized - but I did. As it turned out, it was just before the ebook revolution began. What this means is I have control and am able to parcel out those Signet copywrites to other publishers of my choosing. Cedar Fort has five of those copywrites - Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career, Reforming Lord Ragsdale, Marian's Christmas Wish, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and Summer Campaign, plus two short story collections.

I returned some to Signet, and I've been impressed with the way they are reproducing those electronically. Signet has done Libby's London Merchant and One Good Turn. Next will be The Wedding Journey, and The Lady's Companion. Camel Press in Seattle has Miss Whittier Makes a List, and two others. The rest I'm hanging onto, for the time being. I'm not sure how lucrative all this will be, but the books have earned out their advances, so it should be satisfactory for all of us.

That suits me. I'm happy for new readers to discover the gallant Liria Valencia and her small son Juan, and what the war did - and didn't do - to them. I just wish war didn't keep hurting the innocent. One Good Turn is a story that makes me thankful - and this is the season - for the comfortable life I live, and grateful that people are brave and resourceful still.

One Good Turn has done something else for me. I owe Harlequin two more novels. When I finish the book I am currently writing for Cedar Fort, I've pretty well decided to return to the Napoleonic Wars, thanks to One Good Turn. It's an era I'm comfortable with. I'm trying to decide between bomb kedge duty with the Royal Navy (really, really dangerous) or a return to Spain, or maybe even - if I'm brave enough - Waterloo. Now there was a battle.

These are nice problems for this writer to have. I get to pick and choose my way through history, meet new folks/characters along the way, and learn more, because I learn something from every novel I write. I hope readers do, too.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ideas Make My World Go 'Round

I think the question I get asked the most often is where do my ideas come from? I was asked that most recently by Catherine Treadgold, the lady who runs Camel Press in Seattle, Washington. Camel Press reprinted my first novel, Daughter of Fortune, and made it available as an ebook, too. On January 1, Camel Press will reprint Miss Whittier Makes a List as a paperback and an ebook. Gradually, all my moldy oldies from Signet are coming out again, plus a new series.

Catherine recently needed to write a press release for "Miss Whittier," and asked me to provide some info about where the idea came from to write about a Quaker lass from Nantucket who ends up rescued by a Royal Navy frigate and forced to sail to Europe (she'd been on her way to South Carolina).

Here's how a writer thinks, or at least, this one: I'd been going through a stack of my children's old picture books and came across Brinton Turkle's engaging book, Thy Friend, Obadiah, about a little Quaker boy on Nantucket who is forever getting in trouble. It was a favorite of my son, Sam, and I loved it, too. The stories are set in the early days of the new American republic, that early 19th century era I like so well. I owed a Regency to Signet, and that was the era. Why not write about an American, for a change? I know the breed pretty well.

I looked through the book, ragged now, and asked myself: What would be the complete, absolute polar opposite of a proper young Quaker lass from Nantucket? It would be the salty commander of a Royal Navy frigate, on the prowl for French, and trying to keep the neutral Americans from doing anything that might aid said French. Looking at that children's book led directly to Miss Whittier Makes a List.

I never know where the next Big Idea will come from, so I take all my casual reading, or any activities quite seriously (or try to). Years ago, I came across a juez de campo (brand inspector) as a footnote in an obscure text of borderlands history in the 18th century. Just a footnote. Last fall at this time we were visiting the aforementioned Sam in northern New Mexico. I'd been there before to visit, but this time I seemed to be thinking about that brand inspector. Bingo. That was the beginning of The Spanish Brand Series for Camel Press. The first book will be out June 1, and it's called The Double Cross. Gee, a whole series from a footnote and a visit to my younger son (which makes any and all future trips to New Mexico tax deductible, because I'm doing research as I visit).

Right now, I'm writing Safe Passage, a novel about the Mormon exodus from Mexico in 1912, when the 1910-20 ejido revolution made living in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico too dangerous. The story of that exodus is in its centennial year now. I decided that my hero is going to be going back to Mexico, and not out. He has to find his estranged wife, and try to figure out how to get his cattle out, so they can start over somewhere else, if she's willing. Or so he thinks. It's not going to be easy, and thereby hangs the tale, of course. Novels, as life, are often a study in how much can go wrong.

It might be easier for me to think up ideas because historical fiction is my game. I depend on history to give me my framework, and Cleo the History Muse is a friend o' mine. This brand inspector happens to be living in 1780 on the border of Comancheria, a hyper-dangerous part of New Mexico/Texas, with the ferocious Comanches eager to relieve Spaniards of both hair and cattle. And Spain's power in the region is diminishing. All this is true, so I can waltz in and add some characters.

It's the same with Miss Whittier on the ocean, and Ammon Hancock trying to salvage something - anything - from revolutionary Mexico. The ideas are there because history is there. I respect it, I don't play fast and loose with it, and I enjoy the intricacy of fitting my fictional folks into realistic settings.

Nuff said for now. I'll check in again soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

All roads lead here and there

You hoo? Anyone there? I doubt I have any readers left, since it's been so long since my last blog. Before I left on my trip three weeks ago, I was finishing a historical mystery set in n/e New Mexico in 1780 called The Double Cross. So I was, uh, too busy writing to write. My editor at Camel Press in Seattle likes the book, so with a few changes, we're good to go. Not sure yet when that one will be available as paperback and ebook. It was glorious fun to write. I like to think of Marco and Paloma Mondragon as the Nick and Nora Charles of the 18th century.

But I'm still writing Regencies. Next one is due to Harlequin in June 2013, which I will probably start in February. (I'm thinking about another sea story, so you've been warned.) The project on deck now is a novel for Cedar Fort (yes, there are pesky Mormons in it), set in 1916 Mexico, just after Pancho Villa and his guerillas attack Columbus, N.M. John Pershing was commanded to organize a punitive expedition into Mexico to harry and hopefully capture Villa. He didn't succeed, but this little quasi-war involved trains, and cavalry troops, and airplanes and automobiles. It also involved scouts hired from the Mormon Colonies in Mexico, because they knew the territory, were tough men, and spoke Spanish like natives. Glendon Swarthout wrote a book called The Tin Lizzie Troop about the punitive expedition. I'm currently reading The General and the Jaguar, by the excellent Eileen Welsome, about the same event. Good stuff. I love the research part of writing.

My trip. On Sept. 24, I took off for southeast Wyoming (with a shoutout to Julia and Mr. Otto, of course), then western Nebraska (a favorite cousin), northwestern Nebraska (a favorite National Park Service boss), back to Torrington, Wyoming to discuss a life history a friend wants me to write. It was this kind of do-it-on-a-whim trip: on the way, I finally stopped in Rawlins, Wyoming, at the old prison, active from about 1901 to 1981. (Not to be confused with the state-run Territorial Prison in Laramie.) Anyway, I'd been driving by the pen in Rawlins for years, so I decided to stop.

I recommend it. The tour was well-run, with a super guide who knew all the ins and outs of that tough place. Cell Block A was enough to scare anyone straight - three levels of cells with little or no heat (remember, this is Wyoming), and a bucket in the cell, which could be emptied in the morning into a trough running the length of the cell block. Our guide pointed out that even after 80 years (the old sanitary system was done away with years before the prison closed), there is still an aroma. Hard to imagine how pungent that was during a summer in say, 1905. Great tour. It also included maximum security, a look at the old hanging method, and then the new, improved gas chamber. One of the visitors on the tour wanted to close the door on himself and have his wife take his picture through the peephole. She vetoed that strenuously. In 1981, the new state pen was located south of Rawlins, so the old one remains a cautionary tale.

Then it was "ahhhh" time at the Wyoming State Bath House in Thermopolis. What a bargain. The therapeutic pools (one indoor, one outdoor) are free, provided you have your own suit and towel. If you have to rent theirs, it's only a buck, so it's still a bargain. I don't think another state has a bath house, the result of an agreement and a sale between the state and the Shoshoni-Arapaho Nations. I went in twice, and smelled like sulphur for days. I doubt the fragrance will even leave my swimsuit, but I don't care. Sitting in 104 degree water is worth it. I'd been planning that return visit for two years, and I'm already looking forward to the next time, as soon as I can concoct a flimsy excuse.

I went through Yellowstone to visit another Park Service colleague who is a back country ranger based at Old Faithful District. It was a better year; no tourists were eaten by bears (last year's score was Tourists: 0, Bears, 2). I got to watch Old Faithful erupt, and it was impressive.

Next stop was Choteau, Montana, a lovely little town with the stunning Rocky Mountain front range out the back door. I met Helen "Gus" Miller, A.B. Guthrie's daughter, for dinner, and she told me stories about her father, who was one of my favorite writers. Gus was a Genuine Article herself, with great stories, a penetrating stare, and an amazing laugh. She knew everyone in the restaurant. I was a total fangirl.

I eventually arrived on the Canadian border, where my son lives. I spent most of the time reading about Pancho Villa, then did two booksignings - one in Cardston and the other in Calgary. The high plains of Alberta made me super-homesick for North Dakota, but oh well. Good booksignings- Canadians like to read.

Then I was invited to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with some of my son's friends. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so it was fun to start celebrating early.

I came home via I-15. Supreme irony: I had been traveling some seriously questionable back roads for two-plus weeks with nary a windshield ding. About 10 a.m. near Sandy on the Interstate, someone's car kicked up a stone and killed my windshield. I watched in horrified amazement as the crack went from tiny to "you're gonna have to replace me" in just nano seconds.

Still, it was a great trip. Now it's back to writing, once I finish The Tin Lizzie Troop. I have a booksigning this Saturday, October 20, from noon to 3 at the Seagull Bookstore in Spanish Fork. I can hardly wait. At an Orem booksigning on the 13th, a kind lady told me that the best thing for my thinning hair is to start taking prenatal vitamins. Maybe someone will give me a cure for flat feet next week. H'mm, she didn't even buy a book.

I don't make this up, guys.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Big Pay Off

The big reward for writing My Loving Vigil Keeping came yesterday on Goodreads. Goodreader Lana from Virginia wrote a review of the book, and included some priceless information for me. She's a descendant of Samuel Padfield, who died in the mine disaster. Sam was married to Cassie Evans, the daughter of William Evans, who was brother to Richard Evans, an important character in my book. Lana said her 96-year-old great-grandmother, daughter of Cassie and Sam, was born in Winter Quarters coal camp, and read the book and loved it.

I started up a little comment conversation with Lana, and she wrote more about her great grandma's memories of the charming Welsh accent, and the Welsh wives who were such immaculate housekeepers and good cooks. This is such fun for me, because writing about real characters is generating more information. It's a delicious slice of social history that just makes me practically purr.  If anyone is interested, go to Goodreads and look up Lana's conversation.

In the works, hopefully this month, is a visit of several readers to the Scofield Cemetery  in Scofield, Utah. We're working on arranging this.

More fun - I just finished The Double Cross, first volume in my Spanish Brand series. That's why the dry spell between blogs. I just run out of time for blog stuff when (as Sherlock would say) "The game's afoot." I need to be writing. I have to polish and shorten it, then shoot it off to the Seattle publisher. I already have an idea for book two (a smallpox epidemic in 1780), but that won't happen until I start and finish my next book to Cedar Fort, about the Mormon Exodus from the Mexican Colonies in 1912, and a regency I owe to Harlequin after that. I've been a bit too busy this year. Next year, I'll only write three books, hopefully.

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is now available as a reprint through Cedar Fort now, and hopefully on ebook soon. It's a favorite of many, and my first Rita Award from Romance Writers of America. Cedar Fort is now preparing my newspaper columns in a volume called Stop Me If You've Read This One Before: Prairie Lite.

Also, my lovely kitchen is done now - see new photos. And not a minute too soon, because it's canning time. So far, I'm putting up green beans and chili sauce. Oh, that chili sauce. It smells divine. We've steamed/juiced some grapes for grape juice, and I'm planning on bottling peaches, too.

And the title battle continues with Harlequin. My book, The Hesitant Heart, set at Fort Laramie in 1876, will be out in May, 2013. (It is one of my favorite books.) My London editor says she will be sending title suggestions. In no uncertain terms, I told her to leave that title alone. It comes directly from an officer's wife's memoirs from the Indian Wars and is "romancy" enough. I'll be ignored, of course, but I will tell my editor that if they change that title, my next two Harlequins will be the last I ever write for them. I'm tired of being jerked around by their titles. Nuff's enough.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dear Carla

I'm certainly not the world's most prolific blogger, mainly because I'm too busy writing to, uh, write.

I received the most wonderful letter a few days ago from Amy in Mapleton. I attended a book club meeting a few months ago in Mapleton, and we all had a lot of fun. Amy sent me this letter, and it made me laugh, so I have to share it.

Dear Carla,
Your latest book has kept me up late and caused me to lose sleep. Your book has made me leave work early. Your book has caused me to neglect every earthly responsibility I currently have. Thank you so much for your book. I have loved it! Please keep doin what you're doin, you do beat all Carla.
Admiringly yours,
Amy B.

I wrote Amy back and told her she gave me a good laugh.

I'm in the home stretch on my historical mystery in New Mexico, then I'll start reading for research for the next book. In the middle of all this, we're doing the dread kitchen remodel, which is turning out not so dreadful, especially since we fell into the clutches of Stilson and Sons, general contractors from Emery County who are absolutely magnificent.

Royce is a cool guy in his mid to late sixties who is super-tall and super-organized. I know you won't believe this, any of you who have gone through any home remodeling, but Royce sets a time line, calls us to let us know who will be out to do what and when they will be there. He's even Ahead Of Schedule. Yes, yes, I know, sounds crazy, but it's true. He's scheduled to be done by the end of next week, and he may be done even sooner. We're already lining up another project with him.

The remodel is nothing extraordinary. It was a small kitchen to begin with, and it'll remain a small kitchen. What is will have is more cabinets, and a better arrangement of appliances. No granite countertops; that would be extreme overkill. It'll just be a great-looking kitchen.

The fridge is in the laundry room and the sink is in the bathroom, and we're eating microwave dinners and giving away a lot of garden produce. No complaints; I like not cooking.

And now back to "The Double Cross."

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Boo, the thief

Housekeeping First

First, many thank yous to Marilyn Bown, her husband Gordon, and their lovely daughters and one daughter-in-law, who helped arrange a wonderful book club meeting last week in Salt Lake City. Some 30 bookclubbers (two clubs and part of a quilting book) showed up with their copies of Borrowed Light and Enduring Light. We chatted about the books. I shared some stories about how and why I wrote it, and talked about My Loving Vigil Keeping, which appears to be out already on Amazon. A quilter, Marilyn gave me two lovely pillow cases - with pillows, too - featuring that double wedding ring quilt pattern that Iris was making for Julia. I was stunned.  Thank you all.

Yesterday I had an enjoyable lunch/interview with Cathy Free of the Deseret News, who writes a column called Free Lunch. She wanted to know about my research for My Loving Vigil Keeping, so I brought along the 1900 Winter Quarters census, and a bunch of photos and anecdotes about mining in general and the mine disaster in particular. Let me put in a plug for the Gourmandie French Bakery, a delightful eatery in downtown Salt Lake City, where we had the interview. The food was good, and there were cases of Napoleons, eclairs, and other wickedness. The interview will be out in about three weeks.

And a book launch - apparently a booksigning on steroids - is scheduled for August 11 in South Jordan at the Seagull Bookstore in the South District  from 3-6. The other two authors are bringing along chocolates, and other extravagances. I opted for grapes and maybe those little grape tomatoes which are as good as candy. And there will be drawings for books.

Boo, the Thief

Now to the topic at hand - Boo, our thieving cat. Daughter Liz moved back a couple years ago to regroup, and brought along Flower Jane, a feline refugee from the mean streets of Midland, Texas.  Also in Liz's entourage was Mr. Pants, whose claim to fame is not brains, but a luxurious tail. Last fall, we added to the traveling circus by acquiring Boo, a mostly Siamese named thus because he arrrived around Halloween, and because he's skittish.

He's more than skittish. To quote a line from some stage play: "He would make coffee nervous." From his earliest kitten days, Boo liked to squirrel things away. Liz had a little stuffed Kermit the Frog. Had is the operative word, because Kermit was last sighted being dragged away to points unknown by a kitten not much larger than he was. Rest In Peace, Kermit, wherever you are.

We have our suspicions. Our basement is sort of finished but not quite. The room where Liz sleeps we have charitably dubbed a bedroom, but there is a need for better sheetrock, paint, a carpet, and clever ceiling work to disguise the ductwork. It'll be remodeled next year probably, after we recover from the kitchen remodel that starts any day now. Or never. You know how contractors are.

Boo has a hidey hole in the intricacy of the ductwork, where there is a little shelf. When the doorbell rings, he usually growls (or mutters) and hightails it downstairs to the hidey hole. I suspect that is where he stashes things.

I recently bought a "Draig" (dragon) necklace, to channel my inner Welsh. It seems like a nice thing to wear when I am feeling in need of a dragon, and I have the DNA and the bona fides to wear it. It came in a nice little red satin bag with a drawstring. I set it in a brass bowl on my desk where I keep paperclips. (See accompanying photo) The dragon was inside the little bag, and all was right with the world, until Boo jumped on my desk, took the bag in his mouth and started downstairs with it.

I stopped him immediately, and replaced it in the brass bowl. A few minutes later, Boo did the same thing. I wasn't paying attention until he was down the basement stairs. Fearing that my dragon was about to end up wherever Kermit was, I took off after him. He dropped the red bag by the bedroom where his hidey hole is, and I put the dragon away this time, since Boo was decidedly singleminded about the matter.

Maybe I should put a GPS device in the red bag with the dragon and let Boo have his way. I'm willing to wager that the dragon will end up next to the long-lost Kermit, and probably Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earheart, too.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Wanted: Readers

First, some housekeeping: Marilyn Bown, two ward book clubs, a quilters club and a single ward have invited me to their book club meeting in West Jordan on Thursday, July 26. Should be fun. I promise to behave. On August 9, from 6-8 p.m., I'll be schmoozing at the LDS Booksellers Convention somewhere in Salt Lake City. On August 11 from 3-6 p.m., I'll be participating in a book launch at a South Jordan Seagull Bookstore. I like Seagull booksignings. On Wednesday, August 15, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., I'll be at the BYU Bookstore signing My Loving Vigil Keeping, and whatever else the company puts on the table. And then I'll crawl back in my writer's hole for a while and- ahem - write.

Second, a disclaimer. There's someone out there named Carla Kelly who has written at least one vegan cookbook. It's not moi. I once went vegan for about 20 minutes, and that was enough. I looked on Amazon, and that Carla Kelly's cookbook is nestled 'mongst my books, or vice versa, depending on which Carla Kelly I am.

Third, my interesting friends and their way-out books. We're friends with Barbara and Gene Strate. Barbara is a marvelous little lady who does reiki, and tells way better stories than I can. Her husband, Gene, is the Carbon County Attorney. If you say, "Gene, who?" that's the right answer, because people with an up close and personal acquaintance with Gene have usually been, uh, prosecuted. It's hard to imagine a more kind, gentlemanly fellow than Gene, so he doesn't fit the blood-in-the-water stereotype of a prosecuting attorney.

Gene's a voracious reader, and also a lender of interesting tomes. I just finished his loan of Tales of a Rat-Catching Man, by David Brian Plummer, a Welshmen with the hobby of, eww gross, rat-catching. It's a classic of the genre and the first of many books Plummer wrote about dogs. I returned the favor by sending him The Tiger:  True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant. Published last year, the book tells the tale of a man-eater in that lawless, neglected area of Russia that sits close to China. That book scared the brown spots off my hands.

Gene and I will probably start to challenge each other on who can produce the more off-the-wall read. I'll save my master stroke for a strategic moment, and spring The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W.E. Brown, on him someday. Written in 1956, this mountain climbing parody is achingly funny, and worth every penny of whatever you have to pay. My older son loaned me his copy. Jeremy and I keep each other in good books.

I don't think Jeremy will be able to "best" me this Christmas, when we do our biggest gotcha books. I finally found him a reasonably affordable copy of The Album of Gunfighters, by J. Marvin and others. Published originally in 1951, this beyond-cool book shows page after gory page of gun fighters - their lives, their deaths, etc. For whatever reason, after a bad guy bit the dust, the townsfolk would line him out on the sidewalk and call in the photographer. Maybe it was as a cautionary tale.  Some of those bad-a**es were drilled right between the eyes, a testimony to someone's sharpshooting. Then there are the photos of hangings. Boy howdy, what a mess. One of the gents lost his head...

It's hard to imagine a more unpolitically correct book. I love it. Wish I had a copy of my own. I ordered it now, because I want to look through The Album of Gunfighters before I have to give it up for Christmas.

My very kind husband got me a great reference work yesterday from Deseret Industries for $50 , T. C. Romney's The Mormon Colonies in Mexico. As it turns out, it was the one book I have been needing to round out my research for my next novel. Thank you, Martin!

For fun and games, I've been reading Steven Havill lately, who writes about a crusty ol' undersheriff in a fictitious New Mexico county. Good stuff.

Yep, we love to read in our house. One thing makes me really sad: People who can read, but choose not to. I can't imagine that much poverty.

Friday, July 6, 2012


This is a cautionary tale, a warning for you not to be as stupid as I was. Once upon a time, Carla and Martin drove north to Montana to visit their son, who lives on the border...

Since Jeremy drives a pickup and my Subaru Forester was more comfortable, we went into Alberta, visiting Waterton Park one day, and then Crowsnest Pass (western Alberta) another. Fascinating place, with a great museum telling about the disaster at Frank, where in 1903, the face of a mountain slid down and buried part of a little town in the valley. Quite a story.

The next day, we decided to go to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. This pishkun (buffao jump) shows evidence of use for 5,000 years. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, and another great place to visit.

We're lucky we got to see it, because yours truly was stopped by a roadblock on the Kainai Blackfoot Reserve just north of Cardston. A simple matter, really. We were stopped, along with everyone else, and asked to show proof of insurance. My son, Jeremy, says that's a common procedure on reservations on both sides of the border, done in an effort to stop people from driving "rez rockets," cars with no insurance or current license.

No sweat. My son was driving my car and I was sitting shotgun. I opened my glove compartment and pulled out  my proof of insurance card. Uh, one problem: I didn't have my current one in my car. Doh!  I hunted deeper and deeper through the layers of other insurance cards, expired now, eventually getting down to the one on a clay tablet, but could I find the current one? Nope. Zip. Nada.

"Pull over here," the policeman said. He was a big, hulking member of the tribe (Blackfoot tend to be impressive). We discussed the matter. He wasn't about to let me go on, and he was completely right. Using my smart phone, I called my insurance agency in Price, Utah, and they said they could e-mail me proof of insurance. We waited and waited, and nothing came through on my phone. The cop came back several times, and all I could do was shake my head. And wait some more. Nothing. Finally, I called the agency back and gave the cop the phone, but what could he do? All he heard was someone on the other end of the line, assuring him I had insurance. My son took the phone and told them to fax the paper to his office, on the other side of the border.

So there we were. It was probably obvious to the policeman that I did have insurance, but no actual proof. Jeremy told me later that he certainly could have given me a fine, but probably not sent us packing back across the border. Jeremy's a Border Patrol agent and he knows the US rules, but he wasn't entirely sure about the Blackfoot Confederacy rules.

We were there at least a half hour, maybe more. I'm feeling completely stupid, and rightly so. Finally, the policeman came back and told me, "I'll let you go on. You might be stopped at another roadblock farther on. If you are, this conversation you and I are having never took place. Right?"

"Right," I assured him. "I've already forgotten it." He waved us on our merry way, and we did get to see the Head Smashed In pishkun. No more roadblocks.

When we finally returned to the American side, Jeremy got the fax from his office and I put that in my glove compartment. The e-mail never came through to the Canadian side, even though I could access it on the U.S. side when we returned. I dunno. Maybe my smart phone wasn't so smart. More likely, I just didn't know what to do.

So I owe a real thanks to that nice cop on the Kainai Reserve, who could have given me a ticket, but didn't. He taught me a valuable lesson. Wish I could send him a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I've spent a nice historian's career in recent years (when I worked at Fort Union Trading Post NHS) studying the Blackfeet Nation. They were among the fiercest of tribes that Lewis and Clark encountered, and spent a lot of years giving fits to moutain men and fur traders, and rightly so. It was their land, after all.  All I found was kindness. 

Thanks, Mr. Kainai Policeman. Just so you know, sir, I have a new insurance card and it's right where it should be, in my glove compartment. I'v tossed out all the expired ones, incuding the one on a clay tablet, which I'll probably give to the British Museum...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fire, fire, burning bright

First, the good news: my website is up and gorgeous, which means I didn't do it. Check out Cedar Fort created it, and they let me list other books, too. Daughter of Fortune and Here's To the Ladies also link to Amazon, etc. This blog is also on the new website, which appeals to the lazy in me. I write it here, and it shows up there. Magic. (I never said I was computer savvy.)

Several more of my early Signet/Penguin-Putnam regencies are now listed there, too, and available as ebooks. You're also welcome to leave any comments.

Yep, Daughter of Fortune is out now as paperback and ebook. It was my first novel, and it taught me a lot about the bidness. In The Double Cross, book #1 in my Spanish Brand historical mystery series, I "revisit" the scene of the action in DOF, but one hundred years later. Note to prospective authors: always write about places you love to visit, because then every visit you make is tax deductible. (I am savvy about that.)

Right now, the place not to visit is central Utah. Scary times here. We're now just a canyon away from the Seely Fire, and an hour through several canyons from the big Sanpete County fire. That's if we were inclined to drive to Sanpete County, which we can't do anyway, because all the roads from here to there are closed. There's been a mandatory evacuation of Scofield, so my mind and heart is on that little cemetery so full of "my" guys. Of course, there's no grass to burn in the cemetery, just sand and rocks. You can't get to Clear Creek either, that lovely little community with restored Finnish-style houses to the south of Scofield. Big sigh.

Ash is in the air, the sun went down red last night, the winds are starting to pick up, and the sky to the west, north and east are full of angry-looking, brownish smoke. All this reminds me of Nancy Caesar, MD, a neonatologist at Cox Medical Centers in Springfield, Missouri. I used to be a medical writer/PR person there. Nancy told me once that with all our modern science and cool gadgets, parents just naturally expect a perfect outcome when their child is born. As Nancy put it, we have lost touch with the idea that sometimes things can go terribly wrong.

So it is with fire here and floods in Florida, and other disasters. Sometimes our modernity lulls us into thinking that we're in charge. Guess what? We're not. Fires burn. I remember heated debates on this in the National Park Service, with rangers who want to accomodate tourists who expect a perfect visit in a national park, but who are also aware that fires are necessary. When fires burn, visitors want fires put out immediately. I understand this. What some people don't get is that fire is nature's way of tidying up. When things aren't allowed to burn and the dry and rotten wood piles up, it will burn at some point. It's hard to balance public use of land with the proper stewardship of that land.

The trouble with this, of course, is that we have moved ever closer and closer to forests as population expands, and people have more leisure time for cabins in remote areas, etc. We love our woods. Homes march up hillsides and into deeply wooded areas, often in defiance of the order of things.

We're never in charge, and this will never change. I have a healthy respect for fire. Let me recommend two excellent books on the subject: Young Men and Fire, by the marvelous Norman MacLean, and The Big Burn, by Timothy Eagen. MacLean was given a posthumous award from National Book Critics for his 1992 story of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire in Montana, where 12 smokejumpers perished. In his beautiful, elegiac prose, his subject is death - facing his own mortality - and the science and nature of fire. Magnificent book.

The Big Burn tells two stories: the August-September 1910 monster fire that roared through eastern Washington, through Idaho and into Montana, and the coming-of-age of the newly minted U.S. Forest Service. I used both books when I wrote Borrowed Light. My Wyoming monster range fire also took place in 1910. Julia discovers the terror of fire sucking all the oxygen out of the air, and the overwhelming urge to run in front of a fire, which cannot be outrun.

(Both books are available for cheap as used books on Amazon.)

I can't tell you how often in the last day or two I've thought of what Mr. Otto tells Julia (I paraphrase): "Watch the ridge. Watch the ridge. If the wind changes, watch the ridge. If you hear something that sounds like a freight train, run for the river and don't look back."

We're watching the ridge.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Carla the fangirl

I am a giddy fangirl. Boy howdy, did I have fun last week in Choteau, Montana. I'll have even more fun if I get an answer to a fan letter I left with Rose at the Elk Country Grill.

Word of explanation - Choteau, Montana, is a small town (1,788 inhabitants) on Highway 287, which roughly parallels the Rocky Mountain Front Range. The view is simply not to be believed, except there it is and I love it. We were on our way to visit son Jeremy on the border and stopped for lunch in Choteau at the Elk Country Grill.

Whenever possible, which is nearly always, I avoid chain restaurants when I travel, or anywhere else, for that matter. The Elk Country Grill fit the bill - no atmosphere, old chairs and tables, handmade quilts lining the walls, and an elk bugling call that lets the servers know when the food is ready in the kitchen. How great is that? The service was fast, and the roast-beefy-potatoey soup definitely did not come out of a can. Rose gets my vote as a superlative maker of pies. Her crust was as good as mine, and mine is quite good. (No, I have never served Humble Pie. Can you tell?)

Anyway, I was chatting with Rose at the register and happened to mention that I like driving through Choteau because it was the home of A.B. Guthrie, probably my favorite writer of the West. He's well-known for The Way West (Pulitzer liked it to the tune of a prize), The Big Sky, The Last Valley, These Thousand Hills, and my personal favorite, ARFIVE. ARFIVE is a brand, and it's the story of the ranching settlement of Montana. I've been known to open the book to favorite passages and read them aloud to an appreciative audience (moi).

I expressed my admiration of AB Guthrie to Rose, and she said, "His daughter Helen comes in here quite often, and she loves to talke about her dad."

Oh gosh, I was so excited. Rose said that Helen was out of town right now, but expected back soon. I said I was going to be back through Choteau in October, on my way to a booksigning in Cardston, Alberta. Would Rose mind if I wrote Helen Guthrie a letter and left it at the Elk Country Grill for Helen, when she returned?

Rose didn't mind a bit. During my visit with Jeremy, I composed a letter to Helen Guthrie, telling her when I would be through Choteau again, and asking if I could take her out to dinner and listen to some Bud Guthrie stories. I left the letter with Rose on my way back home, and am hoping I hear from Helen Guthrie, who (according to Rose) is 78 or so and quite lively.

Oh, gee. I should be finishing Chapter 17 in The Double Cross, my New Mexico mystery, but don't you know I'm going to pull out ARFIVE and reread that section where well-seasoned rancher Mort Ewing goes to Missoula for his ward's college graduation. Such good writing.

Canada was fun, too, for lots of reasons. One reason was that I got to meet Lane Cook, mighty hunter/rancher/Subway owner, in Waterton Park. He's a compact, handsome fellow with killer dimples, and apparently a very good team roper. Lane and his wife and young daughters live on a ranch near Cardston with his parents.

Last spring, the elder Cook was in the chicken house when he heard a sound overhead in a crawlspace. Varmints can accumulate in sheltered places during an Alberta winter, and he wondered what was passing through the Cook ranch and decided to stay awhile. He would have whistled up the family dogs, but they were nowhere in sight. He pulled up the trapdoor and found himself staring at a highly irritated, too-close-for-comfort mountain lion. No joke.

I asked Lane just how close that lion was to his father and Lane said, "Dad told me, 'I could smell his breath and count all his teeth.'"

The way Lane tells it, his father didn't know he could run that fast. He shouted to Lane to get his gun, and Lane shot the cougar. Shaken, the two ranchers started looking for their dogs. They found one of them in that crawlspace over the chicken house, where the mountain lion had been trying to bury it and save it for a late night snack. The other dog, merely a pup, had managed to squeeze himself through the cat flap and was cowering inside the house. He's probably still inside the house.

Lane skinned the mountain lion, went through a mound of paperwork, and is having the pelt turned into a rug. Jeremy knows the Cooks really well. He asked Lane if his daughter, who usually carries a BB gun when she goes to feed her own animals, had her firepower "upgraded." Lane just grinned. "I gave her a 22."

Tough people. Most folks never get that close to a mountain lion and live to joke about it.

I know the most interesting people. I plan to use that story in the book I'm working on right now.

P.S. My very first Signet Regency, Summer Campaign, is now out on ebook. I've seen the ARCs (advanced readers copies) for My Loving Vigil Keeping. You'd think it was my first novel, with all the thrill that gave me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Old Friends

I'm probably the world's worst blogger, because this is such an artificial setting for me. As with most people, now and then something interesting happens. When it does, I like to write about it. Mostly, though, life is a series of small things. Because of that, I choose not to bore you too often with my ordinary life. Lately, it's mostly consisted of reading for research about Comanches, visiting grandkids, proofing and re-proofing manuscripts to get them ready for printing. Are you excited yet? Me, neither.

We're going to Montana next week to visit our son, Jeremy. People ask where he lives in Montana, and it's a bit hard to describe, since it's an enclave on the Blackfeet Reservation just a short distance from the border. There is guvmint housing for Customs guys (The Blues) and Border Patrol agents. There's a large building on the border to let people out and back in, and then a short distance north, another building for the Canadian border workers. Nearest shopping is in Cardston, Alberta, about 20 minutes away. Jeremy has three passports - a garden-variety one, a special guvmint one, and a smaller, credit-card-sized one. As he says, unlike Jason Bourne, it's the same name on each passport.

While we're there, we'll visiting Waterton Park, which morphs into Glacier National Park, once the border is crossed. We'll be visiting some places further north, too, including a coal mine. One of these summers, we'll venture farther north to go to the Calgary Stampede. I do like a good rodeo.

This past Tuesday, we spent the night in Mapleton, Utah, with old friends, Jan and Rick. The purpose of the gathering was a book club, which had chosen Borrowed Light for their read. There were 21 of us, with Martin and Rick in a back room. Martin said later that we were laughing so much they had a hard time talking. Ah, yes. That's what a good book club should be. All's right with the world when ladies can get together and talk books.

We've known Jan and Rick since our salad days in Torrington, Wyoming, beginning in 1972. We were all young and dumb and poor, with little kids. Rick was a social worker. Martin taught theatre and English at Eastern Wyoming College. Jan and I were mostly home with kids, but during the summers, I rangered at nearby Fort Laramie National Historic Site. Jan did sing in the community college concerts. She had an amazingly beautiful voice.

We moved to Provo, Utah in 1975, so Martin could start work on his doctorate. He and our kids went ahead and I finished the season at Fort Laramie. One night before I left to join my troops in Utah, Jan and Rick and I drove to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, to see a new movie called Jaws. Scared us all silly. Jan confessed later that she and Rick wouldn't sleep on their water bed for a few nights.

Life moved on. We kept in touch via Christmas letters, and then five or six years ago - maybe more- I stopped in Cheyenne to visit them. We've stayed in better touch since then. When Rick retired and they moved to Mapleton, Utah, we were only a few canyons away. Now we visit our old friends. I never thought they would leave Wyoming - Rick's a native son. He's devote to BYU athletics, so that's why they moved.

Rick had a remarkable career, moving steadily up the state agency ladder until he was the top dog in social work/child advocacy in Wyoming. He did some traveling as a consultant to other states, and is a respected leader in his field. I strongly suspect that Wyoming will never be able to replace that knowledgeable, humble, doggedly determined, fearless man. There are quite a few children who owe their lives to Rick.

Jan, too. When he was out in the field, and not in Cheyenne offices - although it probably happened there, too - Rick brought home broken children to Jan. They would keep them for a few days so Rick could do a more informal, comforting assessment, and have a better idea where and how to place them, for their own safety. Their own children learned to roll with the punches, although Rick says the night he brought home a baby covered in blood was a tough one for his kids. It was the baby's parents' blood.

Jan remembers feeding one little boy four or five helpings of bacon and eggs. Turns out he hadn't eaten in three days. Jan said everytime she asked him if he wanted more, he would just look at her solemnly and nod. These were typical days in Jan and Rick's home. Look up nurture in the dictionary. I'm just sure you'll find a photo of Jan and Rick.

I'm so thankful for people like them. I am reminded of that excellent movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch has just lost the case for the black man accused of rape. He and the children go home, and then Atticus learns that his humble, innocent client has been shot to death while trying to escape. Atticus goes to give the bad news to the man's family.

Scout is sitting, disconsolate, on the curb, with the neighbor lady joins her to comfort her. As near as I can recall, the lady tells Scout that Atticus Finch is one of these people chosen to "do our dirty work."

I feel that way about Rick and Jan. What a noble man. What a courageous wife. He's had successes, and failures, and he has not forgotten them. His job took an enormous toll, but I'm grateful that those helpless children in Wyoming had a prince for an advocate.

Well done, Rick and Jan. You're the best.

I have another set of old friends that I'm in touch with again. Last fall, after a visit to our younger son in northern New Mexico, I started a historical mystery set in 1780 in that area, when the Comanche were at long last beginning to be tamed in that area, or at least, were focusing their considerable energy toward the poor folk in Texas. Spain was pulling back what little border security there was, which meant the citizens of northern New Mexico were pretty much on their own.

I was supposed to be writing that third book in my last Harlequin contract, but I was drawn to these new "friends" of mine. I wrote 15 chapters, then returned to the novel due in January. When I finished that, I wrote My Loving Vigil Keeping, which comes out in August.

My New Mexico story was only on a back burner. I showed my 15 chapters to an acquisitions editor in Seattle, and she liked them, too, to the tune of a four-book contract for my Spanish Brand series. Now the decks are cleared to finish the book. I'm writing it in the style of a Spanish fable, which has turned into a gently humorous approach or a serious subject: life on a dangerous frontera. Widower Marco Mondragon is the brand inspector (yep, they've been around for 400+ years),and his new bride is Paloma Vega. And now there is Toshua, an older Comanche who is just about to enter the story. Paloma is terrified of Comanches, and Marco has told her to nurse the Indio back to health. Marco knows Paloma is braver than she thinks.

They're my old friends now. I've known them since October. Looks like we're going to be in each other's company for a goodly time. If I need a point of reference for their particular kind of courage, I'll just think of Rick and Jan, and other old friends who have influenced my life probably even more than I know.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beware the Coddling Moth

Ah, 'tis the season. My daughter, Liz, took a call this afternoon from our next door neighbor who told her, "Tell Martin it's time to spray for coddling moths." Kathy hung up, and Liz was mystified. I suggested to Liz that quite possibly our little hamlet of Wellington, Utah - home of the gotcha speed trap - is also a center of espionage. It sounded like code to me. We have a password in our family, which I dare not divulge, or I would have to kill you. It is not coddling moths, however.

When Martin returned, he cleared it up. Apparently the coddling moth is something that attacks apple trees, ours specifically. Kathy works for the Carbon County extension agency, which deals in coddling moths. He also told us that last year, Kathy delivered this message: "Time to spray for moddling cloths." I'm not sure which one I like more.

Barring a real kerfluffle from the coddling moths, the garden is mostly planted now. I was sent on an errand this morning to locate zucchini seeds. Believe it or not, they were hard to find. Fast forward to August, when everyone has waaay too many zucchini, ranging from tiny to submarine. In August, you can't even give away zucchini. It's the only time of year people lock their cars around here, for fear someone will sneak a zucchini or ten into the backseat. It appears that people are planting way too many zucchini right now, which leads to overpopulation in August.

I'm no gardener. I leave that to my husband, who enjoys gardening. We have a perfect division of labor. He plants it (I helped when forced, but I whine a lot), and I cook it and can it.

Massive change of subject. Usually my transition is much more polished, but hey, there are coddling moths, er, coddling close by, and I need to get this done. I've added book covers to this blog. The good folks at Cedar Fort - Angela Olsen principally - did the lovely one for Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand. Some equally talented folks in Seattle did the one for Daughter of Fortune, also an improvement on the original.

Mrs. Drew will be out in September. It's one of my Signet reprints. Roxie Drew earned me my first Rita Award from Romance Writers of America. Daughter of Fortune, set in 1680 in the Spanish colony of New Mexico, is my first novel, published in 1984, I think. It's a bit hard to find now. A while back, a hardback copy was for sale on Amazon for $200+, but I can't imagine anyone actually paying that. Anyway, it'll be available in paperback and ebook from Camelpress in July, I believe.

Be kind. It's a first novel. Then, as now, when I sit down to write, I receite my mantra: "This is not Hamlet and I am not Shakespeare," before I start to write.

In September, Signet is releasing Libby's London Merchant as an ebook. Ditto with One Good Turn in November, the sequel to Libby. I don't do sequels too often, but that was a much-requested one.

Right now, I'm reading about Comanches, preparatory to completing Book One in The Spanish Brand series. I'm calling it The Double Cross. You'll have to buy it to find out why.

There's a flutter at the window. Coddling moths must have escaped from the apple trees. (Now there's a secret code phrase. If Jeremy Ritter will drop by for dinner some night, I'll share it with him for the next Bourne movie.