Sunday, August 24, 2014

Back at the ranch, and home again.

This week we fetched our daughter from the Wyoming ranch where she was working and brought her to the place where she will attend a university. This involved a day of solid driving. So how did we break up the monotony?

Actually, it was one of the most beautiful drives I've been on, as storm clouds were low enough to catch on the mountains but light enough to still let the day's color shine through.

Still, we didn't have time to explore--just shoot from the road and move on.

We arrived at the ranch to meet the welcoming committee. She was friendly at first, but didn't want to pose for me more than this one shot.

Then it was back again, with a quick stop for dinner in a Wyoming diner. It had this framed sign over the counter:

Guns welcome.

Please keep them holstered unless needed.

If the need arises, careful aiming is appreciated.

I'm a Wyoming native, and I'm still not sure how seriously to take some of the signs I see there.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Western mystery giveaway.

I first discovered CJ Box's writing on vacation. I was writing Wyoming-themed fiction at the time, so it was nice to discover I wasn't alone. I would look at scenes like the one above during the day and read suspenseful mystery at night. It's no wonder I fell in love with the book (Free Fire) and the bookstore (The Book Peddler).

I was already hooked on Yellowstone.

To celebrate Western literature, I've teamed up with Lady Reader's Bookstuff to offer Truth is Relative for 99 cents through August 22. We're also giving away a free Kindle ebook of Box's latest Joe Pickett mystery, Stone Cold. So drop by her site and sign up for the giveaway.

Summer's over, but you can take a reading vacation anytime.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quake Lake (Montana)

Exactly 55 years ago, the mountains near Yellowstone were jolted so hard that a mountainside fell, a new lake was born, and the campers who happened to be in Madison Canyon at the time must have wondered if the world was ending. Sadly, 28 of them lost their lives that night. Those who survived could not flee the canyon on the road that brought them in. It was destroyed.

The mountain still bears the scar left behind when an 7.5 earthquake shook the rocky slope loose. It slid down so fast, it created hurricane-force winds. These added to the chaos the campers experienced below, in addition to falling rubble and debris. The slide dammed the Madison River, creating a new lake and adding rising water to the many problems that people in the valley had to overcome.

The slide didn't just rush to the valley floor--it climbed partly up the opposite slope, where it deposited this boulder. Today it is part of a federally-designated educational site that illustrates the power of an earthquake. Survivor stories are recorded inside the visitors' center, and they're worth a read. It is hard to imagine the shock and terror the people must have felt.

Today the scarred landscape is peaceful again, but it bears more evidence of the disaster. The rising lake picked up resort cabins, floated them and then settled them down again as a spillway partly emptied Earthquake Lake.

This is a poor picture of them, but they're just visible against the treeline on the other side of the river. Up close they are broken, and they've earned the name "ghost village."

The trail we took to see them serves as a snowshoe path in the winter. It would probably be as beautiful to explore when it's buried under a few feet of snow.

The information for this article was stolen off interpretive signs, but the photos are all mine.

It's ironic that we learned about such a terrible event on a perfect summer day. Summer's ending now, the kids are preparing for a new school year, and tomatoes are ripening on the vine. I wish you all a happy harvest.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Launch Week wrap: three questions

At the book signing. Carole
Warburton, left, is another western
mystery author who has supported
my writing habit for years.
Thanks, everyone who participated in Launch Week. The book signing was a heckuva lot more fun than I expected, thanks to all the friends who stopped by.

Some of the participants had questions for me while they were there, so I'll pass those on, and my responses.

Q: In 15 seconds, tell me why I should read your book.

A: Because it's funny and well written. And the world needs more mysteries with a sense of humor.

Q: How did you get your cover?

A: It was done by Caitlin Willey, a local artist. I was familiar with her work as a graphic artist, but when she showed me a watercolor she'd done for another author, I was instantly hooked. She agreed to take on my project in late spring.

I gave her a description of a ski lodge where a pivotal part of the plot takes place, and she went to work. We traded photos back and forth, and she found one of a log structure with enormous windows. I asked her to paint something like it and put the suggestion of a party scene with a fiddle player inside. When she was done I could hear the music in my head.

I hope she's famous soon. When it happens I want y'all to remember I commissioned one of her early works.

Q: How do you feel about being self-published?

A: It has been rewarding to see this project through. It has also been remarkably scary. More than a year ago I accepted that my clever, engaging and witty mystery was also probably too big a risk for a major publishing house to take on in today's fragmented market. I found a small publisher with a reputation for treating their authors right, and they signed me in the summer of 2013. They ended up closing their doors a few months later.

Since then I've pulled together a team of people to make this book a reality, including a cover artist, an editor and a designer for the book's interior. I love creative collaboration! I believe in this project! That's why I've taken the risks that come with publishing it, and it's been a fun ride.

And now, it's on to the next book. Thanks for tuning in! We will return to our regular programming.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On audiobooks, long car rides, and a giveaway at the end...

I'm guesting over at MK McClintock's Books and Benches today. Please stop by and read about audiobooks that have made our vacations that much more memorable.

We were looking at this while listening to Eragon. The landscape fit
the story perfectly.
There's a contest at the end for you haiku-writers.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Launch week 2: Lyon Bread

Our oven at work. I've used this photo before. You

can only take so many before your hands get all 
dusted with flour.
This Thursday at noon, anybody can stop in at the Book Table in Logan, Utah and sample some Lyon Bread at my first book signing.

Maybe it's time to tell the whole Lyon Bread story, in case anybody's wondering what the heck Lyon Bread is.

It started on a night I have already written about, when we got together with the former owners of Jack's Wood Fired Oven and made pizza. (This was before the restaurant opened.) We learned a lot, cooking in their portable wood burning oven. We walked away with a plan to build a brick oven of our own in the backyard (and we did!). We purchased the Bread Baker's Apprentice as soon as we could. Bret read it. I haven't yet, but it's still on my list, as as soon as I finish the next writing project.

We must have made an impression on Jack and Julie, too, though, because they asked if they could base a future menu item on our bread.

"You mean focaccia?" I asked.

It wasn't true focaccia. We put parmesan cheese on it. We were basing our recipe on a nearly 20-year old memory, and even then, Italian focaccia had a lot of variation in it. The Genovese style was thick and spongy. The Tuscan style was thinner and silkier. A bakery in Trieste added herbs. But all of them added the characteristic indentations to the dough--little wells where the oil and salt could pool as the bread cooked. We'd stopped denting ours up years before, because we liked it just as well straight.

Jack didn't want to call it focaccia. He wanted to call it Lyon Bread, and he hoped we wouldn't mind.

I really wanted him to, but I tried not to beg. Bret didn't mind, either--he gives his recipes out freely. And so Lyon Bread became an alla carte item on Jack's menu. I'm still kind of proud of that--of being part of not only a menu but a whole food philosophy that involved quality and local ingredients.

Our recipes aren't identical. I think Jack used a blend of cheeses. Bret's bread recipe was stretchier because he used higher-gluten flour (still does). We changed up the toppings sometimes--piled on mozzarella for kids, added fresh rosemary for grownups, put on thin, fresh tomato slices and basil when they were available from the garden. But our basic recipe remained the same: bread, oil, course salt, parmesan.

If you come to the book signing, you can experience it yourself.

The rest of the story: Jack and Julie sold their restaurant so they could concentrate on another business in another town. Jack's Wood Fired Oven closed while its new ownership went through some paperwork, but it's open now,same name, new owners. They are committed to the same food vision. 

Lyon Bread is still on the menu.

We bought some today and drove it home, smelling it all the way. It was a longer drive that usual. Lyon Bread's still good. And it's still not quite like ours.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Launch week 1: Wyoming pix and a question

Today starts Launch Week on my blog--the week when I talk about my new book (Truth is Relative... have I mentioned it before?) while trying not to bore people who came here for the pictures/country life commentary. So I'll open with some Wyoming photos (my book is set in my home state) and close with a question.

My daughter is working at a dude ranch this summer. We visited her this weekend, and this was what we saw when we opened the door to her cabin. (She shares it with five other girls.)

I took a couple of Western shots and learned that while a cabin is picturesque, it poses some editing problems when it comes time to straighten the photo. (I'm notoriously bad at taking crooked pictures.) It's hard to find a straight line to reference, since logs don't always run in straight lines...

...Like this fence, for instance.

I'm not going to brag about it, but I didn't even get out of the car to take this photo. It's straight out the window from a dirt road. Husband stopped the car and rolled the window down and clicked the shutter once. "That's it?" He said.

I enlarged it in the viewfinder. "Yep. Got it."

I still had to straighten it when I got home.

On to the question: When I wrap up this week I'd like to answer any questions potential readers have about the writing process, publishing process, or anything else book-related. If you have any, will you post them in the comments below?

Emails from home

Most of our email is pretty mundane. Once in a while, though, the immediate flavor of country life sings amid the shopping lists and communications to the office. Here are some stored on our home computer, written by people in our house and edited for privacy.

Some of the terms are softened for a family audience, but not by much.

Your evil kitty just woke up your son by urping up a mouse on his lion blankie.

You know you live in a small town when…

...Fifty-year old people born and raised in town are ‘new comers’.

...You are more afraid of locking yourself out of your house than of being robbed.

...The library has a different schedule on every day of the week.

...You are darn proud that your town has a library. Incidentally, your library account is handled not by a card but by a number that the librarian types into her computer. You have trouble remembering it, but the librarian can always tell you what it is.

...You can honestly say, "The Mayor is in front of the house fixing his manure spreader."

Good news: We caught another mouse.

Bad news: We have at least one more.

Good news: He must be hungry and he thinks of traps as a food source, since he robbed the bait of an un-sprung trap, finished the bait of the sprung one, and ate an eye from his dead brother.

Hope you're done with breakfast.