The Wedge of the San Rafael

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

Sunday, 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.