Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sun Tunnels and Secrets: Great story, storied setting

I suspect my friend Carole Warburton is really too hip for me. And she's so cool, she doesn't care.

I began hanging out with her in our writing group. I soon realized her creativity doesn't stop at the word processor. She throws pottery (we're talking art, here). She can outhike me any day of the week. If there's somebody in the valley that's creative, smart and influential, that person is probably Carole's friend. I recently discovered she's a photographer as well. I interviewed her about her latest book, Sun Tunnels and SecretsThen I asked for some photos of the landscape where the book is set.

I'm so glad I did.

Q: Before we talk about the book, I have to ask about the cover. Your publisher used your photo. How did you get that shot, and how did they tweak it?

A: I took the photo as the sun was setting during the summer solstice (June 21st) a few years ago. The tunnels are set so they capture the summer solstice and then there are another two that capture the winter. They are set in an X formation--about ten feet in diameter and I can't remember how long. The only thing the publisher did was to add the image of the man in the background. That added a mysterious element that was needed for the book.

Before we go on, here's the book teaser: On a trip to the Sun Tunnels in the Utah desert, Norma and her sisters find a body on the side of the road. But this awful discovery turns out to be the least of their problems. Norma's husband just passed on, and she learns he kept a secret from her for sixty years. LaRue is keeping a secret from Norma. The sisters' young friend Tony is keeping a secret about his famous father... Tony is secretly in love with his friend Kelli ... and who is the mysterious young car thief with whom Norma feels a special connection?

Q: Tell me about the sun tunnels and the solstice celebration. Or is the party just a myth?

A:  There is a celebration of sorts. Maybe a hundred or so people camp out and wait for the solstice. The two years I went it was pretty tame. Nice folks all interested in seeing the magic of the sun setting through the tunnels, jostling to get their cameras in position. It really is beautiful, but I doubt it's for everyone. It does attract the same types of people that Burning Man does.

Q: This book, like your first, is set in Grouse Creek, an actual town. What is your connection to it?

A: My husband and I taught school in Grouse Creek's K-10th grade school (24 students) for 5 years. We lived in one of the houses that my husband lived in as a child. He is very attached to the community as his father was also from there. I got attached pretty quickly because it is such a unique place and I loved the people. There are only 70 people there now and they have to travel about 70 miles to buy their groceries over gravel roads. How many would be willing to do that?

Q: Of all the characters, who is the most like you?

A: I would say I'm a combination of all three of the older characters. I'm practical like Norma, but there is a streak of rebelliousness like Mabel. And then as much as I hate to admit it, I'm at times like LaRue--who is a bit judgmental and prideful.

Q: In this book, your character Kelli struggles with low self-confidence. If she asked you for advice, what would you say?

A: I gave her advice in the book by way of Norma and Maggie. I would tell her to love herself just the way  she is and believe that she is deserving of everything. I would tell her to embrace what's right in front of her. I would tell her that sometimes our biggest mistakes can create miracles in our lives if we learn to navigate and grow from them. I would tell her life is wonderful and she should get all the help she needs until she believes it. And when she believes it, she needs to remind herself of that every day.

Q: Secrets play a big part in this novel--and some of them stayed in the closet for a generation or two. What does your book say about the things humans keep private, and what should be revealed?

A: I really don't know for sure what should be kept private. I have been a big believer in the idea that whatever you've repented from--no matter what religion you are--that you don't have to tell anyone those things, including your significant other. Why dig up the stuff that is no longer part of your life? However, in my book and in real life I've known that when a secret came to light, it was the undoing of marriages and relationships. One or more of the affected people felt betrayed. In my story Norma feels betrayed because she knows she could have forgiven her husband if he had just asked. So in answer to your question, I didn't set out to make a statement about secrets. I think it is so complicated in real life that it varies from situation to situation. Each person will have to decide and perhaps seek divine help to know what's right.

Q: Sun Tunnels and your first book, A Question of Trust, have very different plots. They have a common theme, though: a sweet interplay between old and young characters. Did you do that on purpose?

A: I didn't do it on purpose. But one thing I noticed when I first moved to Grouse Creek was that the relationships were very different in this very small town. The interactions of the adults and youth played a much bigger part than in larger communities. It truly was like a very large family. We had heartbreak, squabbles, and deeply formed relationships. It was part of the experience of living there. So I think the stories grew from that experience.

Q: The Grouse Creek Fourth of July celebration plays a big part in your plot. How is the Fourth of July different in Grouse Creek from other parts of America?

A: The celebration was pretty much described how it really is. It's very small town and the residents and their families put a lot of effort into the day. Extended families and others converge on the town. There is a parade that lasts about 15 minutes or so but it's very fun. Entries are put together by families and groups. There are fewer people watching the parade than are in it.

The night before the celebration there is a dance. (That's not in the book.) This year a band came from Cache Valley and played under a pavilion next to the rodeo grounds, where a rodeo was going the entire time. So while they were singing and people were dancing, the sound of the rodeo announcer and people cheering, horses and cows stomping, cowboys yipping and audience clapping were part of the mix.

This is Carole's third book--and the photos that accompany this post show she's not just a writer, she's an artist. (I guess I already knew that.) Thanks, Carole, for sharing your photos of the area where Sun Tunnels and Secrets and A Question of Trust took place.


  1. Wow, hip! I like that. It may be the first time anyone has described me as that. Thanks for the fun interview.

  2. Makes me want to travel again. What a superb idea to build a new Henge. There is something inspiring about the summer solstice.
    The link to the book cover appears broken, I've tried twice with no luck.
    I love small town parties, in the UK we have them and they are always fun. Not community building but community affirming I think fits these occasions.

  3. Thanks for telling me about the image trouble... working on it... I agree small town parties are the best.


I love comments! But don't even try to leave one anonymously.

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.