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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Practice Positive Perspectives

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It’s like an under-worked muscle. Many of us are born with it well-developed. As children we meet the world with eyes of wonder and imaginations ready to accept the impossible. We want to be awed. We know that beneath every rock we turn over is an exciting discovery. Until we stop exploring life with those eyes of wonder life is beautiful.

When I snapped this picture, my initial thought was ‘how unfortunate for the poor pansy’.  In the process of writing my new book, A Light From Friday Harbor, I’ve been reading and reflecting on the theme of hope. One recurring solution to hopelessness is the alteration of perspective. Sometimes we know it as attitude. For my character, Abby, dealing with diminished vision, the shift in perspective and diminished vision become metaphorical. How would Abby, with her striving for hope in a hopeless situation “view” this image?

If we were to call up our memories of childhood wonder, might we see delight here? There has always been something childlike in the face of a pansy or a violet or a primrose. These early heralds of spring have pluck. The fact that they are small compared to their showier cousins, the roses, adds to that impression of fortitude. If I were to caption this photo now, as I practice positive perspectives like Abby, I think I would pick words like ‘Courage’ or even ‘Hope”.

One of the few things we have control over in our brief time in this wonder-filled world is our attitude. Perhaps we’d be more mentally healthy working that muscle of perspective. Life might even become beautiful again. Wouldn’t that be a wonder?

 

Sneak Peek at “Whitcomb Springs”

“Whitcomb Springs” by MK McClintock

In the spring of 1865, a letter arrives in Whitcomb Springs for Evelyn Whitcomb. The Civil War has ended and the whereabouts of her husband is unknown, but she doesn’t give up hope. With courage, the help of a friend, and the love of a people, Evelyn finds a way to face—and endure—the unexpected.

“Whitcomb Springs” is the introductory, stand-alone short story of the Whitcomb Springs series set in post-Civil War Montana.

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Amazon ~ Amazon CA ~ Amazon UK

For a complete listing of all currently available and upcoming Whitcomb Springs stories, visit http://www.mkmcclintock.com/whitcomb-springs-series.

Excerpt from “Whitcomb Springs”

Whitcomb Springs, Montana Territory—April 25, 1865

The letter fluttered to the table. Evelyn stared at the sheet of paper but could no longer make out the words as they blurred together. Surrender. She prayed this day would come, they all had, and after four tortuous years, the war was finally over.

There would be more capitulation on the part of the South, and too many families who would never see their men again . . . but it was over.

Separated, yet not untouched, from conflict, Evelyn Whitcomb lived in the same town her husband and their two friends founded one year before news of the Civil War reached them. By way of her sister, who lived in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania with their parents, they were kept informed as often as Abigail could get a letter through. Evelyn often wondered if she should have returned to Rose Valley to help with the war effort, much as her sister Abigail had done, yet she found the needs of Whitcomb Springs to be vast as the town continued to grow.

Many men and boys left, leaving their wives, mothers, and sisters behind to fight for a cause they didn’t fully understand, yet still felt it their duty to serve. Others remained behind to continue working in the mine and watch over those families with or without kin.

Evelyn read over Abigail’s letter once more, letting the words settle into her mind, for even now she struggled to believe it was over—that her husband might return home.

Dearest Evelyn,

For too many years now I have shared with you the horrors and travesties befallen many of the young men with whom we spent our childhood. News has reached us that on the ninth of April, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Oh, sister, I dared not believe it was true when Papa brought home the news. He tells us not to become overly excited for there will surely be a few more battles waged until the news reaches both sides, but we can thank God that this war is officially over.

Your news of Daniel’s disappearance has weighed heavy on my mind these past months since we heard, and Papa has attempted to learn of his whereabouts, to no avail. We have not given up! There is much confusion right now on both sides and Papa said it could be weeks or months more before the men return home. Do not lose faith, sweet Evie.

Your most loving sister,

Abigail

MK McClintock is an award-winning author of historical romance and westerns, who has written several books and short stories, including the popular “Montana Gallagher” series, the “Crooked Creek” series, and the “British Agent” series. She continues the search for a time machine that can transport her to nineteenth-century Montana or Scotland—either works. MK enjoys a quiet life in the Rocky Mountains where she spins tales of romance, adventure, and mystery set in bygone times.
If you’d like to know when MK’s next book will be out, please visit her website at www.mkmcclintock.com, where you can sign up to receive new release updates.

To read an excerpt from Samantha St.Claire’s short story “Healing Fire” visit the Whitcomb Springs page on this website.

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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

 

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.

Cover Reveal for Comes the Winter

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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.