Mentor or Menace

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The following post is a reprint of one I wrote several years ago on a different website. Reading it again this week, I felt it might be appropriate to post here.

Michael Hauge often speaks of the protagonist’s search for his essence. It’s an essential element of the hero’s tale. The hero lives in denial for a period of time, clinging to what he knows to be true of himself, or rather what he believes to be true of himself. The story reveals his essence which opposes that perception, and while the reader sees the reality, the protagonist must discover that truth along his own painful journey. I’ve also read that each of us must make that painful transition or languish in our delusions, never satisfied. Looking back at my own career path, I can see the truth of this. That path has been filled with some interesting switchbacks. That is the universal story, and I’m only living out one version.

One major switchback or plot twist occurred early in my life. I’ve spoken of it in an earlier post. The fact that this event continues to come to mind reveals its significance. In love with the process of creating, at the time manifesting itself in the visual arts, my path seemed straight and clear. I would pursue my passion, seeking out those who could teach me the skills I needed to succeed. Unfortunately, the teacher I encountered would not take the role of mentor. Although she was not an antagonist she did become an obstacle. Young and perhaps threatened by her inexperience, she asserted her opinion that what I lacked to become successful was talent.

Such a judgement, from one to whom an impressionable youth looks for guidance, was and is devastating. Although it altered my career path as a result, the experience shaped me for the better. Later in life, when I ironically found myself in the position of art teacher for a small private school, I made a commitment to encourage my students and refrain from opinions on their talents. While I see myself as a teacher of students in the arts, I refuse to think of myself as an artist. I still believe I lack the talent.

Along the way, I met a wonderful teacher of ceramic art. He was the C.S. Lewis of potters for his time. Students thrived under his instruction. We aspired to be like him and learn all we could from his vast years of experience. He taught us the chemistry of glaze creations, but he taught us so much more. Never allowing us to keep anything we had made on a potter’s wheel unless it was 12 inches high, he taught us discipline and to pursue excellence in our craft. To me, he gave words that began to undo the damage of that youthful teacher from my past. He said that to become an excellent potter was more about skill than talent. Oh what a revelation! Here was an excuse for me to continue to pursue my essence, just in a different medium. So I did.

In the following years, another creative passion has bubbled within. I loved crafting stories since childhood. Written over a decade ago, one novel still rests in the memory of my word processor. Once again, I read the words that have given me confidence to pursue my essence. This time the champion is one Martha Alderson. In her book, The Plot Whisperer, she states very simply, “I believe that writing is not a gift but a skill…”

Thank you, Martha, from the bottom of my anxious heart. She goes on to challenge her audience to pursue the craft diligently, finding our weaknesses and our strengths. I’m bent over my keyboard now just as I was bent over my potter’s wheel for so many years. Pursuing excellence in the craft is something I can aspire to do. Putting aside my fears of public opinion, I am following my essence. It’s what I must do. Happily, it’s also what I want to do in this chapter of my own hero’s tale.

So here’s the question? Is talent like art simply in the mind of the beholder? My perspective now is this. I have to pursue the craft as if I am pursuing my essence and leave the opinions to others.  While I want readers to love my characters and settings as much as I do, I must only concern myself with crafting the best story I can. Of course, that is easier said than done.

I’d welcome observations and experiences in expressing your own creativity.Albert einstein

 

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Creativity Triggers

Cecil Dawley house donated to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

After many days of rain, the sun came out in full glory yesterday and called us to take a walk. Our five-mile, round trip trail led east along the Olympic Discovery Trail skirting Discovery Bay. It was new territory for us at the edge of the Salish Sea, better known as the Straits of Juan de Fuca. One half mile in, we passed a retreat camp within Sequim Bay State Park. Its name is Ramblewood.

That name brings me to the focus of the post—triggers for creativity. I’ve written before about inspirations springing from locations. Most of my writing does just that; it’s first a place that I’ve seen. Fort Ross gave birth to a little boy named Misha Alexandrov, a boy of my imagination who told me his story as I related it to my readers in the book by the same name.  A visit to Stanley, Idaho brought the characters of my latest book to life. Lena Sommer and Evan Hartmann seemed to step from the pasture at the foot of the magnificent Sawtooth Mountains. Comes The Winter started with that visit where the sight, smells and even the air became the petri dish for this writer’s imagination. Names have had the same effect.

The name Ramblewood, carved in block letters on an unremarkable park service sign, literally stopped me. I stared at the word, the shape of it. Saying it out loud I smiled. Something stirred within. Then the images began—a lost town hidden in a dark forest—no, a forest glade filled with light. Then the questions—how does one find her way there? Who has the gift to find and see it? What are the gifts that draw the seer? What is the town’s secret? Why is it called Ramblewood?

With the sun warm on our faces, we walked east and deeper into the Wildlife Sanctuary where the trees crowded the trail as though desiring to reclaim what had recently been taken from them. Now, the setting speaks of mysteries and dangers. Is nature an adversary or a friend? Is Ramblewood a place of refuge or a prison for those drawn to her? Why is Ramblewood a she? Time shifting comes to mind, like the San Andreas Fault line. Possibility of a fourth dimension seems inevitable.

Just off the trail a boarded up house peeked through the trees. Again, I stopped, clicked a picture on my phone and wondered about the former occupants. So much about the house said welcome. Was this the house at the center of our imaginary Ramblewood, the one that had called us into discovery of her secrets? After five miles, the ideas had coalesced into a dystopian, YA, time-travel story with flavors of Timeline by Michael Crichton.

The rhythm of walking and the hushed quiet of those woods worked together triggering further creativity. It isn’t just my idea that this phenomenon is a reality. That evening I read another post on ways to jog the writer’s creativity. Psychology Today posted an article about the benefits of walking for just this purpose. Aside from the fact that sitting for hours every day before a keyboard is bad for the health, it’s also bad for this ability to create. Scott McCormick wrote a recent post on this same topic for BookBaby.

A fellow author, McKenna Grey, has written recently of her imagination’s far-reaching scope that can encompass multiple genres. She says that she has “embraced the wildness” of her imagination. Having read her books, I can honestly say that she is able to do that well. I’ve read that she takes long walks on frequent occasions.

If you are unable to walk, try taking a long car ride without the music to distract you. Studies have shown the old-fashioned concept of a drive in the country to have similar effect. Whatever method you use, let’s get out there!

What triggers work to stimulate your creativity?

 

 

Some Of My Heroes Wield Pens Instead of Swords

“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”
—Peter Handke

The recent movie, Goodbye Christopher Robin, illustrates not only the damaging impact of a work of fiction on the author’s relationship with his young son, but by contrast its restorative influence on a nation reeling from the horrific devastation of W.W. I.

While the exploitation of the child, Christopher, is tragic, the value that the book offered to England’s wounded collective soul is difficult to measure. A. A. Milne and C. S. Lewis were both veterans of that war. Their stories took not only the children but a disillusioned adult population by the hand, and gave it back a taste of innocent childhood. Winnie and Tigger offered comfort as friends while, a few years later, C. S. Lewis would tell of a magical wardrobe into Narnia. Both authors provided fanciful escape from the revelations of the evil at large in the world.

Today we still find solace in the pages of fiction. We dive into worlds where plots are tidy compared to real life, maybe even predictable, and characters become friends. The author leads us into an imaginative world. Like those who entered Winnie’s Hundred Acre Wood, we are children filled with wonder. Those are the books I want to read; those are the ones I very much need to write.

Which books helped define your childhood? I still remember many days playing Pooh sticks with my children.

The Sterling Justice Trail

Within a short drive of Pocatello, Idaho, lies a trail head leading to Slate Mountain. Three trails offer views of Pocatello and the mountains further east toward Wyoming. On a sparkling day in late December of 2017, we trekked up the newly completed Sterling Justice Trail. Without Pocatello’s notorious and frequent chilling winds, we couldn’t have asked for a better time to venture out.

Although the trails were perfect for our fitness level, it wasn’t just the trail or the spectacular views that intrigued me. It was the name of the trail and the legend that followed the man with such a fantastic name – Sterling Righteous Justice. What writer of western fiction could resist building a story around such a name?

His fame seems to be due to his dedicated efforts as a ranger to care for the forests and wilderness areas around the Portneuf River Ranger District. Born in 1884 on an cattle ranch near Hagerman, Idaho, he had a legitimate heritage to protect. All these simple facts aside, there must be more to the name. What dreams did Mr. and Mrs. Justice have for their baby boy to name him thus? The next thought that comes to my mind is how does such a name frame the character of a child? For not only is he Sterling Justice, he is Righteous Justice.

I am researching further, because I feel there is a story here. We are all stories, with or without the name. But names have impact. One of my names means two-faced, after the Greek god. That was a heavy burden to carry throughout my youth. Often and with concern, I wondered if it applied. Then, when I was an adult, a woman presented a talk in our school and gave a different meaning. Hers was ‘beloved of God’ or ‘gift of God’. It was a revelatory moment and I recall breaking down in tears feeling as though I had been anointed with new life.

It makes me ponder how much this man’s life and character were shaped by the weight of his name. He is credited as leaving a living legacy. I’d say he made his parents proud.

Do you have a similar story? I’d like to hear it.

 

 

 

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.

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