Wonderfear

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As I’m preparing, researching, and generally agonizing about this new writing project, I’ve been spending time in the natural world. For me, that’s outside the walled dwelling space where I usually work. My daunting task is to write to life a character that will journey from fear to a focus on the wonder of her Creator and his creation. That is where this author believes the answer will reside–in a place and state of wonder.

We have the privilege of living in two beautiful locations. One is in Idaho and the other is on the remote tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The morning we walked out on the beach I’d been pondering this truth of finding peace in proper perspective of our place in creation. I walked out on the sun-kissed beach with senses heightened, ready to receive inspiration. Nature did not disappoint; it rarely does.

A mile down the beach a group of five eagles were gathered around a carcass of a dead harbor seal. When we encroached on their buffet, they flew off to sit and observe our passing from a distance. Perched on the driftwood at the edge of the tide line, they appeared more like magnificent carvings than living creatures. We passed and settled down to watch them. Before they returned, a plucky seagull chose to take advantage of the free feast. It was an ill-advised opportunity.

A flash of white, a flutter of wings, and one eagle swooped down on the unobservant seagull. The gull flew up, but too late. The eagle caught it in flight. A struggle ensued. The eagle lost its grip and the gull plunged into the sea. We held our breath, hoping the gull had escaped death’s snare. It was not to be. After a few minutes of floating, the gull’s head lowered to the waves and it was lifeless.

Stunned, we watched the body float a few feet from shore; the eagle returned to his perch. It was a drama played out in less than five minutes. Raw and awe-inspiring, this glimpse of the naturally ordered world left us speechless. I realized that my heart-pounding reaction was a response to wonder. Awful and wonderful. The term that had filled my imagination was realized on the beach that morning. This was wonderfear.

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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.

 

 

 

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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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.

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.

 

 

 

A Setting Speaks

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Nestled up against the rolling foothills bordering the Salmon River, the town of Stanley, Idaho has an expansive view of the Sawtooth Range. This time of year the town has already put on its down jacket and hunkered down for the winter that will soon be bullying its way into the basin trailing harsh winds and snow. But this week, it’s a lovely place to be, free of tourists, dressed in the warm golds and reds of autumn. With a populace numbering far less than 100, it’s a hardy community that’s already stacked in the firewood under wide roof eaves. Shops are closed or only open for limited hours of business. The change of season is caught in the crisp air scented by sweet leaf mold from trees quickly discarding their summer clothes like the residents.

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Highways bringing summer visitors from either Sun Valley to the south or Boise from the southwest converge here, the road bending sharply changes one’s perspective of the landscape from rolling ranch land to majestic mountain peaks. But there is no mistaking this for a hospitable place to settle year round. In the 1820s hardy Hudson Bay fur trappers learned it and were quick to leave when the beaver population did not yield the bounty they’d hoped for. Miners stayed only as long as the veins produced ore. But other souls have found a home here, settling in for the long winter months with ready acceptance, fair trade for the beauty that greets them each day in the form of snow-capped peaks and quiet isolation.

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As a writer, this place speaks to me. Place your romantic fiction here, it whispers, but do not neglect the harsh realities of such a setting. Use it as a character, one that inspires and directs the plot. Let your characters be shaped by this land and this climate that changes so sharply with the seasons, transforming the residents as dramatically as the landscape. Allow your people to learn from the seasons, the rhythms of life that bring comfort in their consistency. Transport your readers here to this place so removed from the modern pace of their lives.

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And so I shall.