Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Latest Story from "Behind the Ranges"

In case you hadn't heard Commoner By Choice, my newest "Behind the Ranges" book, was released on 16 February. I've been making a big noise about it everywhere I could think of, and I hope that means lots of folks will buy it. Or ask their local libraries to get a copy (in print or ebook) so they can read it.

This is the tenth book in the series. There's also a Christmas-themed novella. And the beginnings of an eleventh (or maybe another novella) on my computer. If you've visited my website, you'll know that the series title is from lines in The Explorer, a poem by Kipling: "Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the ranges--/Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go."

When I wrote the first book, The Queen of Cherry Vale, I didn't know I was beginning a series. I just wanted to share a story that had been gestating for a long time. I've spent nearly my whole life within ten miles of the Oregon Trail, and its history has always fascinated me. I've read a bunch of contemporaneous accounts of the journey west, seen several movies depicting it (mostly inaccurately), and walked bits and pieces of it, from Independence, Missouri, all the way to Oregon City, Oregon. Traveling the route, or as much of it as we could get to while towing a trailer that wasn't intended for off-road travel, gave me an appreciation of just how far it was between start and finish.

The Oregon Trail is about two thousand miles long. It took most nineteenth century travelers between four and six months to make the journey. We drove it in the late twentieth century, with frequent stops to visit historical sites or walk still accessible and visible sections. If we could have taken the time off from our jobs, we'd have spent longer on the trail, but even the short two weeks we spent exploring it left us with a sense of awe at the accomplishment of those early travelers.

Only one of the books in the "Behind the Ranges" series is about the trail, though, because the people who followed the trail settled in Cherry Vale, a place that exists only in my imagination and between the pages of my books. It's in the general vicinity of Garden Valley, Idaho, though, if you are curious. I did a little rearranging of geography and topography while I was creating Cherry Vale, because I needed it to be more isolated, more inaccessible, and well off the beaten paths of aboriginal peoples, beaver trappers and gold seekers.

Once my characters, the Lachlans and the Kings, settled there, their adventures--most of them anyway--were over. A peaceful life in an isolated mountain valley isn't very interesting to write about. The trouble was, they kept talking to me about their lives, about their children. More stories for me to tell.

The first three books are about those early settlers. The subsequent ones--all but one--are about their children. That one is only part of the series because characters from the other books appear briefly. Knight in a Black Heart is the book I had to write, the story of a woman plant explorer in a time few women were given credit for their scientific discoveries. Yet there were many women who did significant work in the sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Several of them were botanists, and since I am--or was until I retired--a botanist too, I was compelled to tell a story that celebrated their accomplishments.

How many more books will there be in the series? I don't know, but I can promise that I haven't used up the whole second generation yet. And there are other characters who’ve appeared here and there in the series. Murphy Creek is one. I've got the beginnings of his story outlined, but he's not cooperating. Not yet. One of these days I'll convince him that it's his turn, though. And there's a young man named E.Z. King who is clamoring for a book of his own. So far, though, he won't tell me how he's related to the families or what year he was born.

Ah, well, I'll pry his story out of him one day. Or maybe another of the Lachlan kids will decide to have an adventure. Only time will tell.

Here's a list of the "Behind the Ranges" stories. I hope you'll read one or all of them.
The Queen of Cherry Vale
Ice Princess
The Duchess of Ophir Creek
Noble Savage
Lord of Misrule (novella)
Knight in a Black Hat
The Lost Baroness
The Imperial Engineer
Undercover Cavaliere
Squire's Quest
Commoner By Choice
And don't forget to drop by my website. You'll find a link there to Coffee Time Romance, where I'm giving away copies of all the series titles.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


The story until now:
For days they've known someone was following them, someone who wishes them harm. Unable to take the safe route back to the nearest settlement, Micha has chosen the ancient, dangerous trail along the Middle Fork of the Salmon, sometimes known as "The River of No Return" for the violence of its rapids.
She looked tired, he realized. Dust coated her face and turned her dark blue clothing to mottled tan. Sweat stained the sides of her shirt. Suddenly he realized what he hadn't noticed until now.
"What have you got on underneath?"
"Under your shirt and britches. What kind of underwear do you have on?"
"I don't think that's any of your business," she snapped, as her cheeks turned rosy.
"It is if you're overheating. Are you wearing wool longjohns?"
She nodded, and got even pinker.
He shook his head, more at his own negligence than at her foolishness. She was a lady, despite the trousers and the shorn hair. Of course she was wearing longjohns. "You'll want to go down to the river after we get camp set up. Get yourself a quick bath, and when you dress, leave off the wool underwear."
She opened her mouth.
"Eliza, it got hot today. Tomorrow's apt to be even hotter, because at least half the time we'll be feeling the full force of the sun. We'll probably have to use the water in the cask, because I don't think getting to the river's going to be easy in the next stretch. Do you want to get heatstroke?"
"No, of course not. But--"
For a moment she gnawed on her lip. "When you said we had to leave as much as we could spare behind... Well, I don't have anything else that's decent. It's all in that bundle you took to Jethro."
Sucking in his cheeks to prevent laughing aloud, he managed to say, "I don't think anyone will notice." You are lying through your teeth, boy. "Those clothes don't fit all that tight. Now, you get done here and head down to the river. I'll keep Jocky busy while you get cleaned up."
She gave a sigh and turned back to the pack she'd been opening. "All right, but it just doesn't seem mannerly, to go around half-dressed."
Micah decided he would be wisest if he kept his mouth shut. He went looking among the trees near the river's edge for game trails. The itch was back, and if possible he'd like to keep their camp hidden. But only if he could avoid the paths made by critters on their way to water.
He also wanted to tether the mules tonight. Reminded, he called, "Eliza, when you go to the river, take Rachel, will you? She can soak her legs while you wash." And if Rachel was with her, he'd worry a lot less while doing his best not to look her way. Mules were nearly as good as watchdogs.
Eliza stripped quickly and shook the dust from her britches and shirt. Her longjohns were damp and stuck to her in the most uncomfortable places. She skinned out of them and started to toss them on top of her other clothing, but then paused and gave them a good look. She wasn't going to put them back on today or tomorrow, was she? She took them into the water with her, and resisted squealing when she squatted. It's cold! Why is it this cold when the air is nice and warm?
Quickly she soaped herself, dunked to rinse. She stayed as low in the shallow water as she could--up to her waist--while soaping the longjohns and squeezing them between her hands. When she submerged them the water turned brown. I didn't realize how filthy I was. A couple more rinses and squeezes and she saw no trace of either brown or soapsuds.
Just then Rachel brayed. She was looking downriver.
Peering in that direction, Eliza saw no motion, nothing that might have caught Rachel's attention. And now the mule was drinking, so she couldn't really be alarmed. Perhaps a coyote, slinking around... They'd seen a couple today.

She splashed to the bank and used her shirt to wipe most of the water away. It would dry quickly, in this heat. When she'd dressed, she realized how much cooler she was without that layer of thin wool next to her skin. But it still felt indecent.
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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Coming Soon: Commoner By Choice

The most difficult part of the birth of a new book is the waiting. You wait for it to be accepted by a publisher, you wait for your edits to come back, you wait for your reviews to come in, and you wait, agonized, for the day it's released.

I'm at that stage now. Everything is finished--I hope. But my release date isn't for two months yet. All I can do for now is try to get folks interested in reading Commoner By Choice, the tenth book in my "Behind the Ranges" series, when it does finally come out.

I've already introduced you to one of the characters. Demon is a mule, hardworking, even-tempered, patient. His photo has been on my website for a while, and I even let him be my profile photo on Facebook. He's on the book cover too, but all you see there is his backside, a pretty distinctive one, as he is an Appaloosa mule.

Book cover? That's right. I've got a cover! It shows the magnificence, the ruggedness of the mountains Micah King and Eliza Jane Dollarhide travel through on their desperate escape from the man who believes Eliza has stolen his inheritance, and will kill to get it back. Micah is there, too, astride Jezebel. And that's Eliza on Demon.

Two months! That's 62 days. On one hand, I wonder if I'll get everything done before 16 February, and on the other I dread how slow that time is going to pass. Just as it always used to in the last month before Christmas, or the final few weeks of a school year.

To fill the days a bit, I'll be posting an excerpt along about the first of the year. Even better, the ebook version of Commoner By Choice will be available for pre-order at Amazon, KOBO, and the iBookstore from New Years' Day or thereabouts.

I'll also be working to finalize the print version, for those of you who still like the feel of a book in your hands. It will be available around the middle of February, but I can't promise it will be the same day as the ebook release. I'll let you know.

Maybe those sixty-two days aren't going to drag as much as I'd feared. Sounds like I'll have plenty to keep me busy.

Be sure and check my website and my Facebook page for updates between now and 16 February, when you will hear from me again. At some to-be-announced point I'll be giving away some free e-copies of other "Behind the Ranges" titles. You could be a winner.

In the meantime, I invite you to view my annual holiday postcard--another antique--at my Gladhaus website. This one dates to sometime around 1912 to 1917, but without a postmark I can't pin it down to a definite year. I just know approximately when the sender was likely to have sent it to my great aunt.

Holiday cheers!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Jude's Low-Calorie, Now-and-Again Newsletter; April 2017

Well, hello again!
It's been a while since I posted, but today I have news worth telling. As of today my newest short story, Retirement Plan, is available at Amazon. It's only 99 cents to purchase, free to read if you're a member of Amazon Prime. There is a short description on my website, so I'll give you a little sample here:
I stood there, puzzled at the symmetry of the clearing. I bet myself that the circle of trees surrounding the venerable giant was perfectly round, that the widely scattered shrubs within their circle were placed at precise intervals. It wouldn't take a surveyor's transit to prove that the ancient tree was at the exact center of the clearing, either.
While I'd never worked as an engineer, I did complete three years as a civil engineering major before the auto wreck that landed me in a hospital for seven months. Still, I knew precise arcs and angles when I saw them.
As I stood there, not really thinking, but subconsciously putting together a blueprint in my mind, I saw a slight motion beside the tree. It pulled me from my introspection, so that when she stepped into view, I was all eyes.
She was no girl. There were silver strands among the russet ones, laugh and frown lines on the tanned face. Nor was she dressed in haut couture. Her pants were unpressed, with a few hanging threads at the hems. Her jacket showed signs of many launderings, and there was a patch on one elbow. She wore scuffed boots, ankle high I guessed, and on the left one the laces were knotted where they had broken.
Her smile, though, was young. What's that Rogers and Hammerstein song? "Younger than Springtime"? That's what her smile was, and it came not just from the plump pink lips but from leaf-green eyes.
"Hello," she said, and I fell in love.
If you like paranormal romance, or faerie tales, you'll enjoy Retirement Plan.

I have other news too. Sometime in the next year Book X of my "Behind the Ranges" series will appear. When and how is still up in the air, but it's written and has passed critique--well, it still needs a few holes filled and some rough edges polished. This one, for those of you familiar with the series, is Micah's story; He's the youngest King, all grown up and having an adventure. Only he's not venturing far from home. His adventure is practically next door to Cherry Vale, but that doesn't make it less exciting, dangerous, or rewarding. The working title is Commoner By Choice, and I will let you know when it's coming out as soon as I know.

And even more good news. Uncial Press has reduced the prices on a number of my older titles. If you've been waiting to complete your set of "Behind the Ranges" ebooks, or thinking about picking up one of my contemporary or Regency romances, now you can save on everything published before 2011. Visit your favorite ebookseller and go wild!

Spring may be coming to Portland at last. We had a miserable winter, the wettest February on record--and if you know Portland, you'll know that's really WET! As a little bonus, March's rainfall came close to a record. Usually by now I have my snow peas and onion sets planted, but it's been too wet to work the ground. The seeds would have drowned. Today the sun is shining, tomorrow it's going to rain again. Sigh!

As usual, I'd like to share a recipe, something to toss together when you're too tired to fuss with a fancy salad or just wanting a different taste. It's one of those happy accidents, invented when I didn't have all the ingredients I needed for my usual coleslaw dressing (I love cabbage in any form!). for lack of something more inspired, I call it

1-2 tbs ranch dressing (I use fat free, but any kind would work)
1-2 tbs Thai sweet chili sauce
Mix together and toss with shredded or chopped raw cabbage. Let stand for 15-30 minutes before serving.

You'll hear from me again when I have news. Until then, take care and be happy.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Autumn Leaves, October Rain, and Nightmares...

Right off the bat let me say that usually our Portland Octobers are pretty nice. The rains don't usually start until toward the end of the month, after which they don't stop until along about April. I italicized rains because rain is a constant fact of life around here for six months of the year, so much so that when the sun comes out people run around in shorts and sit on sidewalks drinking coffee and sunbathe wherever they can find a non-soggy piece of lawneven if the temps are below freezing.

This October is not nice. We've had enough rain that the leaves on the sidewalks and trails are soggy. No taking a walk in order to kick your way through drifts of crisp, rustling leaves, which I remember as one of the best things about autumn.

Except for once.

I was fifteen and we had recently moved to a middle-sized town in southern Idaho. The library was only a half mile or so from our house, and I made frequent use of it. Even better, it had a good collection of science fiction books, my then-favorite genre.

It was the middle of October and I was taking the long way home from the library because the temperature was mild, the wind was blowing fallen leaves across the streets and sidewalks, and the nearly full moon was playing peek-a-boo behind fast-moving clouds. Although there were streetlights at the intersections, the blocks were long and mostly dark. Deserted. I might have been the only person alive that night.

I am not one who jumps at shadows. I'm more likely to try to discover its source than to be afraid of a strange noise in the night, and ghost stories do not frighten me. About the only things that really scare me are lightning storms and having a tree fall on my housethat's happened twice and folk wisdom says events happen in threes...

One of the books I'd returned to the library that night was John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. For some reason it had scared me, way more than any of Lovecraft's stories or Poe's or Shirley Jackson's. The triffids were plant creatures that ingested meat. Any kind of meat. And they were prone to making the source of the meat dead before they ate it. When they moved they made a clicking, rustling noise.

Just like those dry leaves rattling across the sidewalk.

I was terrified.

I did not run screaming, but I certainly walked very fast, flinching at every click, knock, bump, thud, rustle, and creak. I was never so glad to see our porch light as I was that night. For weeks afterward, I woke in the night, sure I'd heard a triffid outside my window.

In the many years since then, I've reread that book a couple of times and seen the movies (one true to the story, one not). And I have to admit, triffids still scare me. So maybe it's a good thing our sidewalk leaves here in Portland are soggy.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Small Towns and Parades...

I like the dynamics of small towns, the way everyone minds everyone else's business, where secrets are hard to keep, but there's always someone who'll help out when you need it. 

Hillsboro, OR, 4th of July Parade
Most of all I like the small town festivals--most have them, of one sort or another--Pioneer Days, the Harvest Festival, a Fourth of July Social, the May Fest, or any of a hundred other reasons to celebrate. They often involved old fashioned parades, with tractors and fire engines and decorated farm wagons carrying the local May Queen or the members of the Ladies Sewing Circle or the officers of a fraternal organization. And always there are the proud veterans of wars past and present in full dress uniform, marching tall and proud, saluted and cheered by their neighbors who line the streets all along the route. 

But automobiles are killing small towns. It's taken more than a century, but it's happening. When anyone can drive to the nearest Costco in a couple of hours, the sixty-year-old family-owned grocery or hardware store just can't compete. Although the small town I lived in for thirteen years is still viable, Main Street just isn't what it was when I was there. I remember a jewelry store, a bookstore/gift shop, a newsstand that sold comic books, paperbacks, cigarettes and candy, two banks, a department store and an appliance store. I'm sure there were others, but those are the ones I could put a name to, if asked. Oh, yes, there was a movie theatre, but it was transformed into a church while I still lived there, a victim of television, not the automobile.

Now some of the storefronts are empty, and the rest house smaller enterprises. For the big items like furniture and appliances folks can drive to a city a bit over an hour away, or to the Walmart across the river (in another town, another state). That small town is now more of a bedroom community than a real town, because people go elsewhere to shop. To play, to dine, to see their doctor, dentist, whatever. I really hope there are still a few small towns left, perhaps less conveniently close to a shopping mall or a big-box retailer. Or just more stubborn. 

Some small towns have deliberately re-purposed themselves as tourist destinations. There is a charming pseudo-Swiss village in the Cascade Mountains, a bit over an hour east of Seattle. A fun place to visit. In Oregon's Willamette Valley is a small town that fifteen years ago had more empty storefronts than full. Today is it a thriving wine center, with tasting rooms in what seems like every third storefront, as well as in the old, long-abandoned depot, and several nice restaurants ;along the main street. But those small towns are exceptions. On a recent trip to Yellowstone, we passed through several deserted settlements, with old grain elevators or saloons slowly decaying into ruin. I remember most of them--perhaps not thriving, but living towns or villages--from the first time I traveled that route, a long time ago. People lived in them, shopped in them, went to church and school there.

On this most recent trip I counted the warning signs along the highway: NO SERVICES FOR 57 MILES. The mileage to the next gas station varied, but I counted five signs in an 850-mile journey. Even in the open, sparsely populated deserts of eastern Oregon and southern Idaho, there used to be gas stations in those small settlements, with restrooms and usually snacks, soft drinks, and sometimes even a small lunch counter. Now the traveler has to plan ahead, to hope for a highway department rest area, to bring snacks for those long stretches between caf├ęs.

It's sad. Something lost, perhaps never to be regained.

A couple of my books are about small towns. Yes, I confess to having shown mostly the good sides of them, and I don't apologize. If you want to look at darkness and despair, watch the news. The world needs more Pollyannas, and I am unashamedly one. Solomon'sDecision and Improbable Solution are both set in small towns that are perfect candidates for decay and eventual disappearance, but the people in them aren't ready to give up. They are very different stories, and the towns aren't much alike, except that they are small, a bit off the beaten track, and handling their potential demises very differently. I wish those stories could be true for small towns everywhere.

Don't you?


Monday, August 15, 2016

Vicarious travels and a surplus of zucchini...

Writers cheat. They write about places they've never been, using maps, photographs, travelers' accounts, Google Earth and tour books to help them set the stage on which their characters play out the stories.

Well, actually, that's not cheating. It's really difficult to visit first century Gaul or fourteenth century China or Regency England in person. We have to depend upon contemporary accounts, like Marco Polo's Book of the Marvels of the World, Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, Jane Austen's superb novels, upon archaeological studies, historical accounts, diaries, and a whole bunch of other sources. We are simply decorating the stages on which our characters act, and we do our best to get it right.

I had never been to Florence, Italy, when I wrote FlorentineEnchantment, or to London and Paris when I wrote Undercover Cavaliere. I relied a lot on photos on the Web, on maps and, in the latter case, also on an 1881 Baedeker, which showed me how to get my characters from London to Paris and where they could stay when they got there.

The great thing about writing historical fiction is that as long as you stick to documentable facts, no one can argue, because they weren't there either. The awful thing about writing historical fiction is that you can't make up your own maps of well-known places, or put important structures where they weren't, or change the path of a river. As sure as you do, someone is going to come along and say--publically and probably very loudly--"Hey, you've got that wrong!"

Fortunately, the Piazza della Signoria in Florence hasn't changed much since 1817, at least not so far as I could discover. Yes, the original David was moved indoors when they noticed how much air pollution was damaging it, but there's a good replica in the same place. Since the story requires that particular sculpture in that exact location, I was safe. But still, there was a niggle of doubt. Had I got it right? Did I have the Piazza right? So high on my list when I finally made it to Florence was checking the piazza where the replica David stands. To my delight, it looked exactly like my mental image.

How about the narrow Parisian streets around Gare du Est? I never got any chiding letters from readers, but I still worried. When I finally got to Paris a couple of years ago, I spent an afternoon visiting some of the places where I'd set scenes. It was a great relief to see that I hadn't made any really awful errors.

But still... I wasn't in Paris in 1885, in London or Florence during the Regency Period, in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1872, or in any of those other places where I've set stories. I'm eternally grateful to libraries (both public and historical), to all the people who've worked to put old magazines and journals online, to contribute to places like Project Gutenberg whence old books can be downloaded, to the Library of Congress for making old maps available. These and many other sources are available to writers who want to make sure their scenes are convincing, the sets upon which their characters act out their stories are authentic to the time.

So I guess we writers don't really cheat. We research, imagine, create, describe, and hope we've done so convincingly. And we have a really good time doing it.

Traditionally I ended my newsletters with a recipe, and when a good one comes along, I'll continue doing that. A while back I ran across a simple and delicious way to use zucchini, something available in surplus this time of the year. Best thing about it is that it's a good last-minute addition to a meal, and it also works nicely with other summer squash.

Zucchini Slaw
2 cu (more or less) Zucchini, julienned (you can also use a coarse grater)
2-3 scallions, julienned (or thin-sliced sweet onions)
1 red pepper or carrot, julienned
1/2 cu white vinegar
1/2 cu sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
Poppy seeds (optional)
Toss thoroughly, and serve within about 15 minutes.
Comments welcome. I'd love to hear from you.