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

SPICY COLESLAW
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.
Yum!

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

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?

Jude

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.
Jude

Monday, July 18, 2016

A toe in the water...

Actually, it was a lot more than a toe, and the water was icy.

Before I tell you about my adventure, I have to say that I'm not a good swimmer, I do not like to put my face in the water, and falling into a river scares the dickens out of me.

So why on earth did I agree when Mike suggested I join a bunch of old friends on a whitewater raft trip on the River of No Return? The River of No Return? The very name sent shudders up my spine, even though I knew it meant simply that once a boat had floated downriver, there was no getting it back upriver. Too many rapids, too steep a gradient, too much wilderness. And no roads, not along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, which was where the raft trip was to go. It's wilderness, preserved by governmental mandate.

For eight months after I sent in my deposit, I worked at convincing myself I wasn't totally insane, that I'd survive the trip, and even enjoy it. My son, who'd done a whitewater raft trip down an Oregon river, told me I'd probably never get wet, (He lied.) some of my friends assured me I'd love it, but others told me I was crazy to consider five nights in a tent in the wilderness. Sleeping on the ground, at that. (They were all correct.)

We'd been on the river less than an hour when I got wet the first time. And for the next five days, I was mostly wet from our morning launch until I changed into dry clothes in my tent in the late afternoon. I slathered on sunscreen every couple of hours, and still got browner by the day. I became clever at finding bushes/logs,/trees to hide behind (no, there are no convenient porta-potties in the wilderness). And I had a wonderful time.

There were twenty-three of us, including seven youngsters between ten and fourteen. Everyone was friendly, fun, just plain nice. Our guides (all seven of them) were experienced rivermen, superb cooks, and really nice guys. They took excellent care of us and fed us really, really well. They even pitched and took down our tents for us, which undoubtedly saved a lot of time, as well as making sleeping under a nylon dome in the wilderness a lot less daunting.

We saw wildlife: lots of birds; many, many bugs (some of which bit); a few snakes (Including one rattler); small critters which sometimes looked like chipmunks; Rocky Mountain Goats; and a Black Bear (which wasn't black, but sort of cinnamon colored). We saw small planes skimming the mountaintops, because the only way in to the remaining ranches (grandfathered when the area was declared a wilderness) is by air, but never heard a jet or saw a contrail until we neared the confluence of the Middle Fork with the main Salmon River.

There is no internet access in the wilderness. Nobody could text or email, make phone calls, or even play solitaire (unless he bought a deck of real playing cards, and I never saw any). We spent our evenings conversing, and mostly went to bed early because it gets really dark in the wilderness. And that meant that the night sky was fantastic. We forget, sometimes, how many stars we can see, because our city lights make all but the brightest invisible.

 Here are the best of my photos. Click on each on for a short explanation.

 A final note: my short paranormal Regency romance, Florentine Enchantment, will be released on 12 August. Read a short sample.

Jude