Cover Reveal for Comes the Winter

Comes the (1)

Available Now for Pre-order on Amazon!

 

Alena Sommer isn’t one to run from adversity. But when the child she’s been governess to dies, she boldly seeks a new life in Idaho Territory by accepting a marriage proposal from a man she’s never met. When she arrives in Sawtooth City she finds the mines are in financial trouble and the man she was to marry is dead. Determined to stay, she ignores the warnings about harsh winters known to plague the Sawtooth Mountains. Will the same man who warns her to leave be the one who gives her the strength to stay? Surviving winter’s threat will take more than courage; it will require mettle forged of two strong wills.

To pre-order Click Here.

CTW new tag Samantha St. Claire_alt1

Irish Soda Bread

Coming from a Scots-Irish background, breads are essential to my well-being. At least it feels that way on an emotional level. After my husband’s sudden diagnosis of heart disease and subsequent open-heart surgery, our diet took a sharp turn towards healthy. While we weren’t eating In-and-Out daily, we were consuming carbs that didn’t help coronary arteries.

It’s doubtful that our nutritional confusion was an isolated experience. More than one study countered the American Heart Association’s promotion of oatmeal consumption. Another study gives the thumbs up to Coconut oil and milk as healthy substitutes for dairy; not so in the opinion of those representing the AHA. Not even our cardiologist is willing to suggest a nutritional diet plan. I could go on at length about the discrepancies, but I won’t. Just suffice it to say that we empathize with all those seeking the healthier high ground.

Our answer to the frustration is to seek a balance and exercise moderation in all things. We won’t impose our limitations on friends or family. This Thanksgiving we will feast, because we have much for which to be thankful. Of course, our friends will make it easy for us since they are paleo by choice.

So, you may ask, why is this a post for Irish Soda Bread? Simple answer – I’m hungry. One of the diet changes has applied to our consumption of bread. Breakfast isn’t breakfast without a carb with tea or coffee. Since I’ve been a bread-making fool most of my adult life, I have to find a remedy. The Lord does provide the manna I require! More than one study reveals the benefits of sprouted wheat. Not only does sprouting wheat transform the little wheat berry into a vegetable category, but the body can absorb the nutrients far better. This looks like some reliable information.

This is from The Whole Grains Council. “Sprouting grains increases many of the grains’ key nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber, and essential amino acids often lacking in grains, such as lysine. Sprouted grains may also be less allergenic to those with grain protein sensitivities.”  Click Here for a link to their site.

So, we’ve been giving it a go. I have the Whisper Mill and plenty of canning jars to start the process. Success has been, shall we say, spotty. Sprouted brown rice cooked in our Instant Pot has been a thumbs up all around. Sweeter and more moist, it’s almost better than Japanese sticky rice – almost. However, the timing for stopping the sprouting process of wheat berries is tricky, and our bread results have been disappointing.

Now, to the point! Because of this long string of failures, I had to console my carb-starved Scots-Irish soul. Irish Soda Bread to the rescue. It’s like eating scones, my favorite. Without further delay, I give you a successful recipe for your Thanksgiving breakfast. Quick and easy, this recipe is sure to please and possibly clog the arteries even more. Next up, I hope, will be sprouted whole wheat Irish Soda Bread. If we have a successful result, I’ll share the process.

Irish Soda Bread

2 cups flour (Can use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 all-purpose)

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

scant teaspoon salt

1/3 cup butter, softened (My paleo friends might suggest coconut oil in its solid state. Let me know if it works.)

2/3 cup soured milk (I use 1 T white vinegar or lemon juice and let it stand for 15 min.)

1 egg at room temperature

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl before adding the softened butter and milk. I use my hands to combine the mixture as I do with scones. Shape into a ball and smoosh a bit on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. I cut the top of mine with a sharp knife and dusted with flour. If this is a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose, I’d suggest letting it sit for around 15 minutes before popping it in a preheated 400 degree oven. Bake for about 25 minutes. Look for that slightly golden glow on the crust.

Serve with spinach and kale. No, just kidding. Serve hot with your favorite homemade jam or honey. Yum!

This is the bread that Lena baked to win the hearts of her Irish boarders.

Cover reveal coming this weekend for Comes The Winter!

Skiing is a Dance and the Mountain Always Leads

Some have credited Jim Bowden with this saying, while others say it’s been around a lot longer than Mr. Bowden. The truth of it remains. Risky and wonderful, skis were not always used strictly for sport.

While researching the modes of travel in Central Idaho’s mountainous country, I’ve read of some unusual snowshoes and skis used in the nineteenth century. In the Boise Basin Museum is a fine display of early wooden shoes and skis, including those made for horses. Dick d’Easum’s fascinating Sawtooth Tales recounts the travails of isolation through the severe winters into the Stanley Basin outposts to mining towns of Sawtooth City and Vienna. Transporting the mail from Ketchum to those boom towns was no small feat, requiring a dedicated and physically fit postman.

Even as late as the early 1900s, traveling by motor vehicle in the summer months over the 8,700-foot Galena Summit required serious planning. Engines and brakes over-heated and the curves were so sharp that passengers often opted for walking, catching up to their motor vehicle when the road straightened. It’s even reported that many chose to back up the worst of the road until reaching the summit. Even today, avalanches frequently block the road for winter travelers.

Last week, this photo appeared in my search for Idaho travel in those early years. It was a jaw-dropping photo for me. In Comes the Winter, Evan Hartmann must make that crossing of the Galena pass. Initially, I placed him on snow shoes, but after further research and actually traveling the route this summer by car, I knew it didn’t make sense. He’d have never made the trip I had written. Seeing this photo confirmed my decision to strap some skis on his boots. It would have been an exhilarating trip to make while listening for the warning crack of an avalanche.

Comes the Winter is scheduled for release on February 10th. I’ll be giving away 10 ARCs in a coming post when I reveal the cover. Watch for that or sign up for the newsletter to learn more.

 

Finding the Romance at Lake Ozette

Once one really begins to look for the stories, they appear along every trail and byway. Sometimes they take you by surprise even when you aren’t looking. That happened last weekend here on the farthest NW corner of the contiguous 48 states while we were hiking one leg of the amazing loop trail from Lake Ozette to the the coast. We stumbled upon the remains of a homestead after meandering through the Ewok country of the Olympic National Park.

 

Stumbled is not a mere literary affectation. While we were hiking west, nearly to Cape Alava, a young couple told us of the homestead just off the boardwalk. On our return we looked for the small opening leading north off the main trail. It wasn’t obvious, but a narrow path did appear. Looking more like an animal trail at first, we were a little uncertain that we’d found what we sought. We had just heard a bull elk bugle off to the south making us a little jumpy about trekking too far off the trail. After a few steps, the ground showed clear signs of recent human tracks.

Expecting the “homestead” to be little more than ruins, we nearly turned back. Then, through the trees, the structure rose up like the “Shack” from novel and movie fame. Creepy and wonderful at the same time, it invited investigation so we made our way up the gentle rise to the front door. Our first thoughts were to marvel at Washington’s seemingly casual attitude toward allowing the public to explore such historic sites. No fences surrounded the one-story building and only one small sign gave us stern warning not to deface the property.

What remains of Lars Ahlstrom’s shack at the edge of the prairie is a single room with loft. History reports he had a fine house once, but it was destroyed by a fire that grew out-of-control when his friend and neighbor attempted to clear the prairie of brush. The forest is reclaiming the land, encroaching on the house walls. But it stands quite confident in itself. Such a discovery for a writer is the stuff of inspiration. My stories have been rooted in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Until seeing the house and since learning of the history of this area there was little to inspire my muse. This Scandinavian community thrived at the same time as the stories I’m writing. I can imagine it now.

And there were love stories.

Of course, there were. Faith, hope and love are interwoven into the human experience. At one time, the land surrounding Ozette was home to not only the Makah but 130 homesteaders. They thrived in relative isolation, clearing the land by burning trees and brush, growing crops and raising livestock. By the time they abandoned their dreams and left the lake community, they had constructed a church, a school, three post offices and stores. All came to an end when in 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt decreed the land should be used as part of the Mount Olympus National Monument.

But the love story? That is worthy of further research. Conflicting reports exist of the mysterious disappearance of handsome boat-builder, Alfred Nyland. The accounts of the discovery of his skeleton eleven years later agree, but the reason for his sudden departure vary. One report explains how his boat was found floating in Erikson Bay after his disappearance in April. The story proposes that he lost his way as he returned home through the woods. It’s certainly plausible when one sees the density of the forest.

The second report includes the personal tragedy of a love for a woman who rejected Alfred’s offer of marriage. Some suggest that sorrow sent him into the woods to seek consolation. Those who know the answer are forever silent. The fact that he was found, back against that tree with his hand over his chest, makes one wonder. Did he die of a broken heart as this story proposes?

Love and loss – dreams and failed expectations – hardship and courage. All are strong elements for story and character arcs. Heady stuff for a writer’s soul.

 

Sign up for Samantha’s newsletter to receive updates on book releases, cover reveals, and new projects. I’m giving away a sweet short story to newsletter subscribers. Don’t worry, I don’t have time to send many newsletters, so you won’t be hearing from me that often. When you wish those emails to stop, just let me know. My gift to you…

Strong Like Wyoming

A war to win, a promise to keep, a heart to reawaken

A short story

Strong like Wyoming

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Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst

 

Established in the first gold rush of 1862, Idaho City boomed to impressive size and influence in Idaho Territory. Far exceeding the population of Boise City, 36 miles to the southwest, Idaho City became a thriving metropolis boasting over 200 businesses, including 36 groceries, 5 pool halls, 41 saloons, at least one church and a Masonic Lodge. What remains are a few energetic souls with a passion for preserving her colorful, but often forgotten history. A major focus of that preservation comes down to maintaining the surviving buildings. Both fun and informative, the Boise Basin Museum makes an excellent stop for those with an interest in the area’s history.

Those buildings and their construction and reconstruction stirs my ruminations today. In light of the devastating brush fires burning in my home state of California, I think of how the residents of Idaho City coped with fires that destroyed their city not once but four times. In 1865, 1867, 1868, and 1871 fire swept into the valley taking away lives and property. Their human quality of resiliency is not unlike that which will bring residents of Sonoma County back in the weeks and months to come building again.

The difference may be in the manner of adaptation to the constant threat of fire in these arid lands. Living in a forested area, the obvious choice for quick construction surrounded them – wood. It didn’t take some forward-thinking businessmen long to reconsider the materials used to rebuild. Brick became the preferred choice for exteriors. However, the nature of the fire usually set roof ablaze and that presented the real threat. Their solution was clever.

Many rebuilt with metal roofing, but beyond that they filled the space between roof and ceiling with dirt. By the time the next fire rolled into the city, those who had employed this method of protection could point to the evidence of their success – a standing building. Others went to the added expense of shipping in heavy metal doors. As you can see in the photo below, those doors would have presented an impressive defense.

My family lived through one evacuation when we made our home in the San Diego foothills. We were fortunate to have a home to return to when the fires were extinguished. Horses survived as well, although there is a story to tell of their evacuation. Another time. Although we made some changes to help us prepare for the next fire (including purchase of a larger horse trailer), we did not go to the extent of filling our attic with dirt. Our adobe walls and tile roof were assets, but not as effective as the measures taken be the residents of Idaho City.

It would be natural to suppose the unfortunate victims of this week’s fires will be taking stock of their lives as well as their property. My heart goes out to them for the losses they’ve suffered. Those other losses can’t be compiled on an insurance ledger. They are deeper, more profound. Security is the first that comes to mind. Such times makes us consider the true definition of home and family. Those who share with their neighbors this sense of loss may find their definition of family expanding. And home? Well, we’ve known for a long time that it isn’t just a building.

What stories and preparations have you made for natural disaster? We’ve certainly seen many in the past few months.

Idaho City (6)

Keeping Close to Nature’s Heart

Those words begin an observation made by John Muir.

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Sheepherder’s Bath

“Keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, climb a mountain, or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”

Most of us who have spent any time in the mountains know the truth of this sentiment. On a family trip to central  Idaho’s majestic mountains, we traveled north from Ketchum along the 75 through some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery God ever designed. Along Idaho’s volcanic spine are scattered numerous hot springs. Some are better known than others. We visited one a few miles north of Sun Valley that fits into the category of better-known. A sign directed us to the spring that has been commercialized for years, boasting a swimming pool at a consistent bath temperature. We passed on the experience of bathing with a bus-load of excited, splashing children.

The manager, taking pity on us, told us a number of stories concerning the springs in the area. As I pulled out my pen and began taking notes, he surely recognized he had an interested, even if not captive, audience. To my delight (and I suppose his), I filled the page with dates and names. Customers willing to bath with the masses took his attention away for a time. When he was once more able to speak with us, he paused for a moment as though appraising our worthiness of this next piece of information. Having apparently passed his assessment, he leaned in confidentially and said, “There is another spring not far from here that the locals know.”

Our interest peaked, we too leaned in to accept this conspiracy of information. Giving us clear directions, he explained that it was once known as Sheepherders’ Bath. That name didn’t stick for Google, but the locals still refer to it as such. Just as the miners of the late nineteenth century used the numerous warm springs to wash off the week’s settlement of dust and grime, so the sheepherders of the early twentieth century took comfort in the thermal waters. Convenient to their grazing grounds, the shepherds availed themselves of nature’s provision.

We drove the short distance where we found the spring just as described. No hordes splashed in it’s crystal waters. As though we were alone in the wilderness, we stepped into the 80 degree waters. With a view of the mountains to the east, we could imagine John Muir himself, walking with stick in hand, a flock of sheep trailing behind, walking asking to share the healing waters.

We’d have willingly made room so that we might together wash our spirits clean.

Listen to Many, Speak to a Few

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Shakespeare wrote that with his quill pen a good while ago. It’s not a bad motto for life in general, but I’ve come to believe it is also an exceptional way to approach book research. Thank you, William, for the notion. Traveling through Central Idaho on this recent research trip, I had many occasions to employ the philosophy.

In Idaho City, a once bustling metropolis in the mid-nineteenth century, I found historians in unlikely places. Reduced to a scattering of novelty shops and a few rustic cafes providing a variety of berry pie refreshment for those traveling the scenic route through the Central Idaho mountains, there remain those who are passionate about the region’s history. When one of my questions stumped the volunteer at the excellent Boise Basin Museum, I was directed to the Simply Fun Toy Store on Main Street to speak with the proprietress. She knew kids and she knew her history. More will follow on that visit in another post.

A few days later, our travels took us north along one of Idaho’s most breathtaking highways that links Stanley to the more celebrated, ski resort of Sun Valley. We stopped in at Easley Hot Springs where we met a friendly manager who directed us to another local historian. As we lingered at the desk, perusing their visitor guides to the area, he volunteered a little more interesting local lore. Not far from these commercially developed hot springs there were more secluded and little known spas surrounded by the natural forest, with views to the Boulder Mountains. Glad we listened and followed up on his advice with a visit. Look for another post on that tranquil experience.

However, the greatest example of Mr. Shakespeare’s wisdom came as I was spending a lovely day in the research department of Ketchum’s Public Library. After spending a productive morning pouring through out-of-print books and scanning fragile black and white photos with nervous fingers, I still had not found some of the answers sought. Just as the need for a second cup of coffee suggested it was time to close my laptop and head back to the condo, a distinguished-looking gentleman took a seat at the table behind me. That’s when William’s maxim came into play.

It wasn’t that I was intentionally eavesdropping; it was simply due to the small space we shared and certain key words that I over-heard the discussion between the man and our helpful librarian. They were discussing the late nineteenth century in Sun Valley and the effect of the Oregon Short Line Rail on Ketchum’s economy. My ears tingled. My pencil scratched a few interesting tidbits, but after a few minutes, well, William, I did speak a few words.

A quick introduction on my part, followed by an even quicker explanation for my research and the door was open. I learned from the candid description of the librarian that my fellow researcher was an expert in all things related to the railroad. My pulse quickened. A lawyer by profession with ancestral ties to the area, he was compiling facts for a definitive history of Sun Valley. Why speak? So, I listened, priming this amazing pump with just a few questions. Finding me a receptive audience, he shared his passion for history. In a mere twenty minutes, I gleaned the answers to all my questions and more I had never thought to ask.

He generously offered to become a resource for me. We have corresponded since as questions have arisen. The wisdom of the Bard proved quite true. Listen to many, Speak to Few. As a result, my lovers in Redeeming Lies can meet in Shoshone on the train platform where the inciting incident of Maddie’s father’s death will propel them north to Ketchum on the Oregon Short Line. It’s a gratifying experience when fiction coincides with fact. I confess that I did a little dance when I returned to the condo at the end of the day.

Of course, you may take issue with my interpretation of Shakespeare’s words, but I think they can be applied here without much of a stretch. If you have another perspective or a similar research experience you’d like to share, I’d like to listen to it in the comments below.

Ghost Town Settings for Historical Fiction

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One log structure remains near Beaver Creek.

Comes the Winter is another sweet historical fiction set on the eastern side of the Sawtooth Range. In 1886, Alena Sommers arrives to the boom town of Sawtooth City expecting to begin a new life with a man she hasn’t met. Together they were to operate a lodging house, more correctly considered a partnership than a romance.  But her future takes a sharp turn when the man who was to be her husband dies before she sets foot in Idaho Territory.

This summer I visited the site of Sawtooth City. Not much remains, some rock foundations scattered here and there across a narrow valley. Just a few miles off Highway 75, it can be found quite easily by driving down a gentle dirt road that winds along Beaver Creek. That ease of access probably explains why so little remains of the once thriving mining community.

There are a few stone foundations, evidence of fireplaces here and there. We were there shortly after the snow melt flooded the rivers and streams of Idaho. Beaver Creek rambled, split, and came together again in lively pathways. It’s been reforested, making it a little more difficult to imagine the saloons, boarding houses and restaurants that written accounts and a few grainy black and white images prove were here. Still, the setting came alive after we found one partial log wall near the stream. The window and door frames were evident. It might have been a nice place for a lodging house.

It was a perfect summer day, lupine and yarrow dressed the tall grasses. Searching for anything that bore witness to the city existence made for a pleasant few hours. Reluctantly, we drove out of the valley, east to the main road. My husband had seen a notation on Google Maps of a cemetery. A little more than a mile beyond the last foundation a narrow forest road let to the top of a knoll with a view to Beaver Creek. I would imagine Sawtooth City would have been visible as well. We found the rustic remains of wooden crosses, nearly lost in tall grass.

The crosses were in random positions close together. No names survived the years of weathering. People who came to strike it rich never returned home. Lonely as it is, the site is peaceful and I could imagine Evan sitting beside his brother’s grave admiring the view.
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Driving west toward Sawtooth City.

Lightplay on Snow

 

 

img_4123Years ago when I wrote about the Sierras, it was natural to draw on the observations of others. John Muir referred to those magnificent craggy faces as the Range of Light. But as I walked through powder snow of an early winter snow this December in Idaho, I was struck by the sharpness of the shadows and the dramatic sunlight highlights on the faces of the range of mountains about us.

It is an easy landscape from which to draw inspiration for writing. I know that for me, it gave me the vision for writing the third book in the Sawtooth Range series, Comes the Winter. I’ve come to the point in the story I dread, when I must bring the plot to its crisis and when the writing will take on a faster pace as the story heads downhill to its inevitable conclusion.  I’ve stalled the momentum, imagining I’ve placed a rock in front of the wagon wheels.

These final chapters will be difficult to pen because I am feeling the anguish of my female protagonist facing the crisis alone. Without revealing spoilers, she’s a bit blind to her weaknesses, as are we all at times. But as the author, I know what painful events are awaiting her in those coming pages. Honestly, I like her and like the mother I am, I want to shield her from that painful revelation. Silly? Perhaps.

But I’m taking a moment to remember December in Idaho and the glorious light reflecting off the snow and the river and the high range of mountains. It was exhilarating in the near-zero temperatures walking across snow fields not marred by human footprints, under a brilliant sun with not a cloud in the sky.

Walking in darkness is not a good place to be. From a practical perspective, toes get broken. But in a spiritual sense, we can take wrong turns or not see life choices clearly. I need to take this step back and allow my protagonist to make wrong assumptions and lose her way so that she can find it again. The sunlight will break through the storm clouds in the end, a few chapters from now. I just have to walk with her through the storm until arrives for her happily ever after.

But maybe that can wait until I take another walk in the sun. It’s a bit gloomy lost in Lena’s world as I’ve been. I’ll let you know when the sun comes out there in 1886.