Friday, September 23, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Up in the Hills

I would venture to say that most of what fiction writers write about is make-believe. We make things up in our heads and then put them into words and hope it makes a good story. Although I set stories in real places in real states and with real landmarks, I usually like to invent my own towns and streets, etc. It’s strange, though, how sometimes the made-up stuff suddenly becomes real and you find a place that you had only imagined really does exist.

This happened recently on our trip through the West. While in Wyoming near the Tetons, we ventured up into the hills to try a little metal detecting. Our son, who lives there, had discovered an old abandoned cabin and out buildings and had gone there previously to poke around. The ride up was a bit bumpy, and bumpy is to put it mildly, on a washboard road, and took us into some rather remote country. When we got there, this is what I saw.


I am nothing if not a picture-taking fool when we’re traveling around the West, so the first thing I did while the guys were busy looking for buried treasure was take pictures (all the while clinging to a metal canister, as I was also the designated keeper of the bear spray). It was a lonely spot, a good place to hide if you didn’t want to be bothered by the world, and it dawned on me that I had imagined this place before and put it into my book, Chance’s Return. It’s the place where Chance goes to hide and try to come to grips with a tragedy in his life, and the place where he goes to avoid making a commitment to Casey, the young widow he has fallen in love with. Looking around at the old cabin and decrepit corral and outbuildings, I felt amazed that even though I’d never been to this place in the hills before, I had imagined it perfectly. It really did exist!


 I’ve written here about how, when I first came to this part of the country, I had the feeling of coming home to a place I’d never been before, and so I have to wonder is it true? Was I here in another time? Or is it just a coincidence? I’m not sure I believe in reincarnation, but seeing this old cabin in the hills that bears so much resemblance to the one I’d imagined in my story, I just have to wonder. I also wonder, who lived there? Was it a homestead? A hunting cabin? The place where someone went to hide from the rest of the world? The cabin was well-built and had been used recently by what I suspect were kids who wanted to find a place to drink and not get caught. It was also a little mysterious, with photos left behind by someone who maybe, like Chance, was trying to forget a heartache.


While we didn’t find any treasure, other than an old tin lid and some bullet casings, I still wonder what secrets that old cabin holds. What other stories it could tell. Maybe it will appear in the sequel to Chance's Return that I’m writing, which ironically starts out:

            This is it. This is the place. It really does exist.



P.S. While we didn't encounter any bears, a few days later a bow hunter was mauled by one while making elk calls not far away.   


Friday, September 16, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

A Book and a Drive through the Canyon

 When earlier this summer I made up my mind to finish my book Will O’ the Wisp before we went on vacation in September, I decided I needed a carrot to dangle in front of me as additional motivation. A great weakness of mine, and one that often keeps me from writing, is reading other people’s books. So as a prize for writing The End on my book, and not a minute before, I promised myself I could read a book I’d recently bought that was by a favorite author.

I became a fan of the TV show Longmire when it first aired four years ago. When I discovered the show was based on books by Wyoming author Craig Johnson, I started reading the series about the sheriff whose jurisdiction is the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming. I started with the first book and have been reading them in order, but Mr. Johnson also writes stand-alone titles, and the book I’d bought this spring was one of them, called The Highwayman. It proved a good carrot to keep me writing and finishing my book. Then I decided to save The Highwayman as a vacation read, so I could enjoy it while I was actually in the setting.

That played out even better than I thought it would. The book takes place in and around the Wind River Canyon, and the highway running through the canyon is a scenic byway in the state. We’re always big on driving scenic routes, so this time we changed our plan to drive through Yellowstone (which turned out to be a lucky choice, since fire closed the south entrance and snow the northern pass) and took the road through the canyon, a way we’ve never gone before.

The Highwayman has a supernatural, Native American theme to it, as do many of the Longmire books, and the opportunity to read it before and after driving through the canyon certainly gave an extra edge to both the story and the drive. I can’t say I’ve ever read a book while I was in the real setting. The canyon is beautiful if a bit scary, because traffic, including semi-trucks, fly through it as though they’re on a six lane highway, and there isn’t much room to get out of the way. That ties into the Highwayman story, too, but I won’t give anything away. It’s a good book to read while the moon is high and full and the beginning of the autumn season is just a few days away. You might enjoy it, too, even if you can’t drive through the haunted Wind River Canyon.    


Friday, August 26, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

The NPS and My Bucket List

          Thursday, August 25, 2016, was the centennial celebration of our National Park Service. On that date in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the agency that has managed and protected the parks, lakeshores, seashores, and monuments that make up the system. They now number over 400, a new one having just been designated this week by President Barack Obama.

          What has this to do with a bucket list? A while ago, my husband and I were talking about where we would go if we could travel anywhere we wanted and not worry about the cost. Without even having to think about it, I replied, I would visit every national park I possibly could. Maybe a bit of a surprising answer, but it is without a doubt on my bucket list, to see as many national parks as I can in my lifetime.

          Then I got to thinking; we have already been to quite a few, some for a return engagement. From the misty and mysterious peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains to the amazing wonders of Yellowstone, the very first national park, we’ve had the privilege of visiting many of the “crown jewels” of our country. The Smokies were a favorite and led me to write a story set there. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in our own state, is filled with steep dunes and Indian legends. The Badlands of South Dakota leave you in awe, as do Canyonlands and Arches parks in Utah. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado was the first park I ever visited, followed by Grand Tetons in Wyoming, which everyone knows is my home in another lifetime. Montana’s Glacier National Park and its Going to the Sun road has you thinking, as you view the road from below, “Is that really where we’re going?” Then when you’ve descended, “Is that really where we were?” Scotts Bluff in Nebraska is a remarkable place in a state that you otherwise drive through to get somewhere else. Walking in Craters of the Moon in Idaho is indeed like being on another planet. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is full of history and legends plus stalagmites and stalactites! Devil’s Tower in Wyoming will have you wondering about close encounters of many kinds.

          This year we hope to revisit a few of our favorites, including one we haven't seen in a while, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, to maybe catch a glimpse of the wild horses that live within the park’s boundary.

Lest you think you must head to the wilds of the country to visit a national park, there are a number of urban parks close to large segments of the population. In fact, no matter where you live, there is probably a national park, monument, lakeshore or seashore within a few hours’drive.  

          Visiting national parks. I think it’s a pretty good bucket list to have, because they truly are “the best ideas” America has ever had.



Friday, August 12, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Lines in the Sand
The End. The place writers hope to reach when they first start to write a book, story, or article, but a place that is so many times an elusive line buried somewhere in the sand. I found the line last night. At 2 a.m.  I finished the book. I. Finished. The. Book. The book that began many years ago as a short story. The one I set aside so many times and had come to believe would never be finished. The one that often made me struggle but that convinced me to just have faith and follow the characters, because they were determined to tell their story. I finally did. I just had faith and let them go where they wanted, and I believed in them when they said, “Don’t worry. We know what we’re doing, and it’s going to be okay.”

Of course this end is really the beginning. I have 72,565 words to edit, facts to look up and confirm, and then I need to decide what to do with it all. In some respects, I feel like the Olympiads who, after years of working hard, have made it to the finish line. Because last night, I finished the book. That is really all I have to say here today.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Home to Another Place

While I can’t say that I believe in reincarnation, I still sometimes wonder if it’s possible to have lived another life. That somehow, in some way, I lived in a different place. Forty-five years ago I first traveled west with a group of college friends to the places I’d only ever seen in movies. Having been a lifelong fan of westerns, I’d always longed to view those wide open plains and Rocky Mountains in person, and when we finally did it was truly a life-changing experience. Those lofty Colorado peaks were a sight to behold, and yet it was when we ventured to the Grand Tetons of Wyoming that I felt a special magic, a fascination with a place I’d never quite felt. To paraphrase a song by the late John Denver, it truly was like coming home to someplace I’d never been before. From the reflection of Mount Moran in the winding Snake River to the quiet of Jenny Lake, the magnificence of the entire area had me from the first morning I watched the sunrise reflect against the Grand. I was in love.

Then there was Jackson, at that time just a tiny western town, cradled in the “hole” between the mountains. With the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Town Square with its antler arches, Jackson seemed so unique. As college kids we had a fabulous time camping in the park, wandering through the town (which didn’t take long back then) and going horse-back riding in the shadow of the Tetons. It was sad when we had to leave, and in my heart, I knew I had to come back someday.

It was 11 years before we did, my husband and I, with our young daughter in tow. I found the fascination with the Grand Tetons hadn’t changed. It still felt magical to sit and watch the clouds drift over those craggy peaks and wonder if in another time I really had called this place home. Maybe that was what led me to write my novel, Chance’s Return, about a man who once lived here but who comes home after years away, and a woman who comes home to a place she’s never been before. Writing the book kept me in touch with the magic of the Tetons, which was good because it would be 32 years before we went back again.

Now, in a twist of fate, our son lives there, and we’re planning our third trip in the past two years to see the mountains. (Oh yes, and to see him, too!) As has happened every time we’ve visited, I will be as excited as if it’s the first time, and I’ll be sad when it’s time to leave; but I’ll be taking a new story with me to keep me in touch with a place that tells me it was my home in another time. I have a title, Tetons by Morning (to remind me of what it looks like to see them in that pink dusky glow) and a first chapter in the sequel to Chance and Casey’s love story. I’m sure the trip will be great for inspiration as well as an opportunity to do more research, but more than that, it will bring me back to where I’ve been before. I can’t wait.


                Chance McCord pushed back his hat with his thumb and lifted his weary gaze to the mountains up ahead. In the past half-hour, storm clouds had amassed over the Tetons, staining the sky a violent shade of purple. Thunder rolled across the valley, setting a nearby bunch of Herefords lowing nervously and a jackrabbit scurrying for cover. In a minute, it was going to pour buckets.

                Chance didn’t mind the rain. The stretch of Wyoming highway shimmered under a sun that burned mighty hot and dry for this early in the summer, and he would welcome a rush of cool mountain air right about now. He just hated for his saddle to get wet. A fine cutting saddle, it had been a parting gift from his buddy Hank, and since the truck broke down outside of Boulder, one of the few possessions of any value Chance had left in the world.

                He’d thumbed the rest of the way and wished now he hadn’t asked the semi driver to let him out ten miles back. Did he think walking would make things easier? Give him more time to think about what he faced? He’d had plenty of time to think—five long years—and nothing in his mind had changed. Maybe walking was a form of retribution. A way to make amends.
                In truth, Chance knew it was just another effort to put off the inevitable.
               He reached into his shirt pocket, drawing out a tattered photograph. He always carried it with him, right over his heart. As he studied the photo now, a memory pierced him so swift it took his breath away. Lately those memories had begun to fade, taking with them some of the pain, but today he held onto the pain so he wouldn’t forget.

                Thunder rumbled again, and he slipped the photo back into its place, making sure his dusty denim jacket covered it. He lifted the saddle and rested it against his hip. The town of Jefferson Falls lay up ahead. He could sit out the storm there, but he’d never make it in time to beat the rain. He knew too well how fast storms moved out of the mountains, and this one wasn’t wasting any time.  The wind picked up and sent scraggly tumbleweed skittering across the pavement. Chance raised his face to feel the breath of the mountains on his damp brow. Then with a heavy sigh he pulled the brim of his Stetson low over his forehead, shifted the weight of the saddle, slung his duffel bag over his shoulder, and prepared to be drenched.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Days of Summer

At first you don’t notice it, it’s so subtle. Then one night you suddenly realize, wow, it’s ten o’clock and it’s dark already. You feel a little depressed then, especially if you, like me, hate to let go of summer. I may not enjoy the heat and humidity that comes with Michigan in June, July, and August, but I love the extra daylight, the flowers and the greens and the fields full of crops growing profusely. I love the June bugs that buzz against the screens in June and the fireflies that dance around on July nights. You can almost predict when they’ll first appear and when they’ll leave, and when the last of the fireflies drift away into the muggy nights, I feel a little sad. I have always hated to say good-bye to summer.

It’s not surprising I included that very line in one of the first short stories I wrote, titled aptly enough, Goodbye to Summer. In that story, young widow and single mom Kate Mitchell meets forest ranger Mike O’Brien and of course falls madly in love. To this day it remains one of my favorites, and I’ll always treasure the words of the editor I worked with at the time, “It’s a lovely story.” Words to warm an author’s heart. It was a true summer story with a beach and boats sailing on a lake and a picnic with dogs playing about on the sand. I put a lot of what I feel for this season into Goodbye to Summer.  I’m happy to say the story, although first published over 30 years ago, is now available again as part of the An Uncommon Prince and Other Short Stories on Amazon, and that Kate and Mike can live on for as long as Kindle survives. But of course, they’ll always live on in my heart.

This is the last weekend of July, and while August still lies ahead in all its muggy, hot glory, with the declining hours of light you can feel the slow slide into autumn. I love that season, too, but summer will always remain the best time of the year for me. In Michigan we are fortunate to have more farm stands and farmer’s markets that you can count, all offering whatever is ripening that month; strawberries in June, blueberries in July, peaches in August, sweet corn, and always zucchini, zucchini, and more zucchini. For anyone who has every grown them, you know how they proliferate overnight and how you often find a monster one hiding beneath the vines. It’s all been a part of the summers I have always known and what makes it hard to say good-bye.

There is still time left, to watch summer sunsets and listen to the noisy cicadas and chirping crickets, but the days are definitely growing shorter. Enjoy them while they last.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fired-Up Friday

Christmas in July

It’s become quite a marketing ploy in recent years, celebrating the holiday in the middle of summer. Maybe it’s because everyone needs a little mental break from the heat of July, although most of us in the northern hemisphere dread thinking about what kind of weather lies ahead in the middle of December. One of my favorite go-to TV channels, the Hallmark channel, runs Christmas movies the entire month, and I must admit that in the middle of this summer with its sad news and crazy political scene, it’s become my haven when there is nothing else calming to watch. Christmas movies offer an escape from the real world and can usually be depended on to leave us in a much better mood than the nightly news.

In honor of the Christmas in July theme, I’m offering my own little means of escape (and a bit of shameless promotion) today. My book, The Christmas Wish, is a Kindle Countdown Special for the next few days, and if you need a few short holiday stories to take you away from hazy days of summer, it might just be the cure. While we are experiencing some of the hottest temps this weekend, take a break, put your feet up and let a nice romantic story take you away from it all!

   Bonnie and Charlie married after a whirlwind affair, but it all ended when Bonnie left with no explanation. Now she’s back and Charlie wants answers, about what happened to them and why she left, but especially about the three children she has in tow. Can they all really make it home for Christmas?

As an empty nester, Caroline is feeling lonely this Christmas. When she meets the new veterinarian in town, Joshua Kendall, and his two children, she’s more than happy to invite them to her library for a holiday program.  Joshua’s children seem to have little interest in celebrating, but Caroline is determined to put smiles on their little faces, and to make Joshua find joy in life again.

Brant and Hope found love the second time around, but now their farm is struggling and it’s taking a toll on their relationship.  Hope’s daughter has asked for one thing for Christmas, but Brant is certain it’s something they can’t afford. There is a new baby on the way, and he’s worried about more than just the farm. Will they find a way to rekindle their love and still make the Christmas wish come true?

Certain to get you in the Christmas spirit, here are three heartwarming stories about love and family and finding joy in the Season.

Today is also a Flashback Fired-Up Friday because the story The Christmas Wish will always remind me of when we had our own Christmas in July many years ago and what led me to write the story of Brant and Hope and their daughter’s wish. My daughter and I wanted a horse, but we had to wait until I received my check from Woman’s World magazine to buy him. Fortunately, the woman selling Haf Staccato was willing to wait until the check arrived in the mail. That was a long time ago and sadly Cato passed on years ago, too, but the story lives on as does his sweet memory. When I published these stories again on Kindle, I dedicated The Christmas Wish to him.

So try to stay cool this sizzling summer weekend and maybe indulge in a Hallmark movie or this Christmas story that I think will warm your heart.


Christmas in July Kindle Countdown Special.
.99 for a limited time only.