A Fine Fort Umpqua Welcome

Folks showed up with happy faces for the return of Fort Umpqua Days after two years off. One of my favorite things about presenting my books at these events is all the stories I hear. People are curious about my books, of course, which delve into the area’s fascinating history. But so many people have stories of their own that they’re eager to tell. I love hearing these. I came away from this two-day event, head full of so many individual histories. My thanks to all who shared a bit of their worlds.

Here I am at my booth on this lovely afternoon. ~ Photo by Robin Loznak.

I also love the costumes many people wear for the occasion–the reenactors as well as the actors who perform in the nightly pageant, portraying stories of the era. I was happy to see reenactors Karen “Many Voices” Haas and her husband, Patrick, back again. I met Karen at the last Fort Umpqua Days in 2019 and featured her in a post back then. The two are shown in the previous post. We had a good visit yesterday. They stopped by my booth, looking quite fine, as if they had walked right out of the past.

Robin took a few more photos at the event (shown below). I’ll let his pictures speak for themselves.

And one more favorite Robin Loznak photo from a past Fort Umpqua Days moment:

BOOM!!!

Fort Umpqua Days are Back

Fort Umpqua front gate

Fort Umpqua Days will be back this year after two years off, and that seems worth a celebration.

It all begins on Saturday morning, September 3 at 10 o’clock at the Elkton Community Education Center, 15850 OR-38 W, Elkton, Oregon, west of town.

That’s by the popular Butterfly Pavilion. The fort lies just down the hill. It’s a two-day event from 10 to 4 on both Saturday and Sunday, plus evening performances of the annual “Echoes of The Umpqua Pageant.”

Monarch butterfly – Robin Loznak photo

This Labor Day celebration has become a tradition in small-town Elkton, Oregon, home of the reconstructed Fort Umpqua, the southernmost outpost of the British Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1800s. It will be good to return to that tradition.

Locals and visitors gather on the weekend to enjoy a parade through downtown, a pie auction, BBQ, live music, tours of the wonderful Butterfly Pavilion, and more. I’ll be among the vendors up near the pavilion, where I’ll be selling my books, stories about Oregon’s dramatic history of those days–A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds.

From “The First Mountain Man” by Andy Thomas – with permission of the artist

Kids will find plenty of fun, including a voyageur expedition, to see what these fur traders did in the heyday of this fort.

My second book, The Shifting Winds, delves into this era with fictional mountain man Jake Johnston as a good friend of historical mountain man Joe Meek. Both came west to Oregon in the early 1840s after the beaver played out in the Rockies. Once in Oregon they wanted to help their fellow Americans claim the rich Oregon Territory, which was then jointly occupied by the US and Britain.

Folks who reconstructed Fort Umpqua worked diligently to maintain an authentic representation of the original, and people will be on site during the Labor Day event to answer questions.

Reenactors and blacksmiths often attend, showing their work to add more color, and they’re happy to offer information as well.

You might even find a mountain man or two.

Inside Hudson’s Bay Company Store, Fort Umpqua

Remember Karen “Many Voices” Haas who was there for Fort Umpqua Days last time? I was so glad she showed me how she uses a drop spindle. It’s a device that was used for many centuries, millennia even. I have a character in my upcoming historical series spinning thread with a drop spindle some 3,500 years ago. After watching Karen I was better able to describe the process.

Karen using a drop spindle to spin thread, shown here at the fort with her husband Patrick, both in period dress.
Outside Hudson’s Bay Company store, Fort Umpqua
Back gate of Fort Umpqua from the hill above

Thinking of Ireland

As drought dries the landscape of my Oregon home, turning the green to gold, I dream of the green fields of Ireland.

Horses in Ireland’s green fields

One day soon I hope to revisit the magic of Ireland. Meanwhile my books take me there.

My upcoming book series features two island settings–Ireland and Crete. For some time I have started this ancient historical saga in Crete, but I’m bringing Ireland forward now with Whisper of Wings as the opening book, where they call the place by its old name Éire.

Irish clan leader Bria finds a champion to help fight the slavers who plague her People of the Stones, but his warrior ways bring their own grief. The Éireanns play a role in most of the other stories.

I first visited Ireland because of my Irish roots. My DNA shows at least a trickle of Irish blood. I know my maternal grandparents were both part Irish. That was enough for me to adopt the place.

By the next trip I had learned more about the stone circles scattered over Ireland and had drafted Whisper of Wings. One more trip helped answer new questions that came up as the series grew. I see another Irish book in the future, beyond the series–or loosely tied to it. The island shall always hold a special place in my heart. The green and the friendliness of its people and the magic of its ancient monuments refresh my soul.

Irish back roads on the way to Bohonagh Stone Circle near Rosscarbery
The magic of ancient stones and new spring bluebells at Bohonagh Stone Circle, Ireland

My Website’s New Look

Styles change. Systems change. The Home page has taken on a whole new look, thanks to my daughter Christiane. She handles this portal to my website–which takes more technological know-how than I have.

The banner photo for Home page, a bay in southern Ireland

The Home page banner photo shown above is one I took on my last evening at Rosscarbery, Ireland, on a recent site research trip to Europe. This bay provides a setting for many scenes in my upcoming ancient historical saga, the Distant Glimmer series. In the stories it’s called Golden Eagle Bay for the nearby Golden Eagle Clan. Today’s locals call this Owenahincha Beach on Rosscarbery Bay.

The new website design better showcases my available books too–A Place of Her Own, about my great-great grandmother Martha’s trek across the Oregon Trail, and Nancy Pearl Book Award finalist The Shifting Winds, about a young pioneer woman who finds herself in the midst of a clash between the US and Britain over who gets the rich territory of Oregon.

I have always used WordPress for my blog and a few other pages, while Christiane maintained Home, Bio, Books, and more. Now everything but the Home portal is WordPress, and I can maintain those on my own. With my former theme retired from WordPress I decided to pick a new theme so the entire site presents a new, more open face.

Same bay as first photo in post, shot at a different angle–this one the banner photo for WordPress pages

You’ll see the Home banner echoed in this banner for the other website pages, a photo taken earlier on the same beach that evening. This one shows the point of the eastern headland on the left. The Home banner shows the western headlands reaching out on the right, the headlands on either side seeming to embrace the bay.

During a fierce storm a lost ship crashes on that eastern point. From the now book one of the series, Whisper of Wings: “The ship had not found that gentle center, but the jutting crags of a promontory with its sharp outlying rocks.”

You can find more about my currently available pioneer stories and the upcoming saga on the Books page.

Stepping Out Again

With hopes of better days as summer approaches, I’ve begun scheduling book events again. First up will be a book signing event hosted by Gail Hoelzle at The Bookmine on Main Street in historic downtown Cottage Grove, a friendly place full of books and flowers and other gift items. It’s the regular Cottage Grove Art Walk held from 6 to 8 pm on each last Friday of the month from April through November.

I’m delighted to be returning to The Bookmine with my books, A Place of Her Own, the story of my great-great-grandmother Martha Maupin who trekked across the Oregon Trail in 1850, and my other Oregon Trail story, The Shifting Winds, a Nancy Pearl Book Award finalist.

Weather permitting we’ll set up a table under cover at the front door of 702 E Main Street pictured above. Whether outdoors or in, the art walk is always a fun event.

A Place of Her Own describes Martha’s incredible journey. She walked the whole 2,000 miles in 1850 from Missouri to Oregon–while pregnant–and that wasn’t the toughest part. They settled first near Eugene City in Lane County, then a hotbed of North-South rivalry. Things got especially hot for my great-great-grandfather, a staunch southern sympathizer, and they fled south to Douglas County–just ahead of the law. He was killed in a wagon accident leaving her with a passel of kids and no means to support them. Determined not to give up she purchased a farm by herself, although her 13-year-old son had to negotiate for a loan because the lender wouldn’t negotiate with a woman. I now own that farm, still in the family for more than 150 years.

The Shifting Winds describes the challenges faced by American pioneer Jennie Haviland, whose family travels the Oregon Trail to Oregon in 1842 during a time when the United States and British both vie for that fertile land. Meanwhile a gentleman working for the British Hudson’s Bay Company vies for Jennie’s hand, while an American mountain man does all he can to disrupt the British guy’s plans. Their story follows the actual history of the American-British conflict leading to the historic meeting at Champoeg that could change everything. Which way will the winds blow?

Martha’s story is true with fictionalized scenes. Jennie’s story is fiction set in a lot of real history.

Flowers of Promise

First daffodils of the season opened outside my house today. Their bright yellow color always shines a light of hope for me. Winter is passing. Better days ahead.

First daffodil flower this year, February 28, 2022.

The flower reflects a spot of sunlight shining through the dark rain clouds on a late February morning. This year it occurs to me that this same golden yellow shines on the Ukrainian flag. Much of the world looks upon that country today with hope for their success in their battle for freedom. These brave people remind all of us how precious freedom is and how important that we sustain it not only in our own lives but for the rest of the world.

Looking ahead to better days.

Writing a Series

As my followers know, I’ve been writing a series—epic historical novels set primarily in ancient Minoan Crete. The series started as one standalone, now called Beyond the Waning Moon. But I couldn’t leave my people so I just kept going. It became a generational family saga. While each story has its own protagonist and story arc, the overall series also has an arc. A quest. A purpose. The haunting fear of a final destruction. The desperate fight to hold on. The glimmer of hope.

The photos here show the reconstructed hub of Crete, the temple (or palace) of Knossos which was dug out of the earth a hundred years ago after being buried for some 3,000 years. After seeing it and learning of the strong women depicted there, I wanted to immerse myself in that world. And so it began.

The fresco of the charging bull, part of the reconstructed ruins of Knossos, replicates some of the amazing art left by the Minoans of ancient Crete, one of many images that inspired me to write about the people who once lived on this remarkable Mediterranean island, now one of the beautiful Greek Isles.

I named the overall saga the Distant Glimmer Series to reflect the distant light shining into our own times. The stories take place long ago, but they speak to our own lives today.

I’m putting finishing touches on Book Seven.

Up until now I had the impression that in marketing the work, all emphasis should go on the first book. Maybe mention that there are more to come, but don’t stress it. So I haven’t stressed the series aspect.

The columns of the temple of Knossos line corridors and staircases and, as here, one of the many stairwells. The most common columns were a bold red and extended from floor to ceiling, but some like these stood shorter above low walls and were painted black with red capitals at the top and a red band at the bottom.

This September I attended a virtual writers conference, the annual conference of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association headquartered in Seattle. During workshops I kept hearing about the power of a series.

I attended a pitch fest because I planned to pitch the opening book of my saga. Gerri Russell, award-winning, bestselling author of stacks of books, led the session, and when we broke out into smaller groups I felt fortunate to have her as coach for my group. We all gave our pitches for the agents, publishers, or producers we hoped to convince to take a look at our work. I hoped to lead the listener into the world pictured on this post and to bring the Cretan characters alive who walk through my thoughts and dreams in these fabulous places.

Gerri immediately got what I was doing with the book from the pitch I gave. But from that she began to question me to ferret out ways to better present it. Who are my characters? What are their goals, their conflicts? Could I be more personal about their dilemmas? I don’t remember all her specific questions but I quickly saw I needed to dig much deeper if I was to reveal the book’s strengths to the listener.

The throne room has been reconstructed with its frescoed griffins and small alabaster throne. It appears the throne would more likely fit a woman than a man, which led some to believe the leader of the people was a woman, a choice I made when I portrayed the leader as the high priestess. However, in my story she does accept a king, a warrior to help protect her people from threatening invaders.

The group members had a chance to try once more, and I bumbled through mine as I tried to rethink it in the moment. Gerri kept going back and forth with me, quizzing me, plucking out salient points. Those salient points gave the pitch new life. Then I hesitantly asked if I should say I have seven in the series written. She burst out with surprise. Yes! Of course! Yes!

So there it was. Emphasize the series. Each book has to stand alone, true. But its place in a series gives it much greater impact. Perhaps the market has changed. Maybe readers are wanting a series more than they did before. Something they can really get their teeth into. In any case that’s what I have. That’s what I’ll promote to those who hold the keys to entry into publication.

New Book Birthing

The story waits, ready to be written from a skeletal document inside the computer, a hard copy of that framework in the blue notebook shown below. The outline.

In my mind I see not the words but the people and places, like the wondrous temple of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete. And the green fields of Ireland that resemble my own green knolls on this soft May afternoon in Oregon.

The grand pillars of Knossos.

Green fields of Ireland.

The characters are almost as real to me as my neighbors—because I move inside them as I show their story. I laughed with delight when I heard travel guide Rick Steves comment about the ancient Romans. They “were just people, like you and me, without electricity.”

True, they had different customs, but they felt joy and sadness and love and fury just as we do. For me it has always been exciting to imagine what life was like in ancient times—or will be in the future. I love Star Trek too. But these ancient times in these two unique islands caught my heart.

To outline or not to outline?

Authors often hold strong views on that question. Non-outline writers may insist they’d be hemmed in by an outline. Outliners like me can’t imagine drawing all those threads together without one. I would never let the outline stop me from taking new directions. But I’m not just keeping threads together for one book.

This is a series that follows two great families through the generations—the high priestesses and kings of Crete, the clan mothers and high chiefs of Éire. This new story begins about 100 years after the opening scenes of Book One in the series. I have to keep track of them all.

Besides consistency, each story requires new research. Scholars keep digging and adding more information. Sometimes I find details—either new or new to me—that affect other stories in the series. For instance when I first started writing about voyages from Crete to Ireland I assumed it would take many months to make the journey. But I found a website where you could enter names of modern ports, designate the speed of travel, and voila. They give you the overall trip time. I had to cut the time dramatically. Of course I had to determine from other sources how fast the ancient ships might go with their single square sails and ranks of oarsmen. I found estimates for similar Viking ships, other estimates for simple rowing, prevailing winds that would increase or decrease the speed.

In other instances when you’re writing a tight storyline where you want a lot to happen in a day you have to figure out what you can fit into that day and roughly what hour events can happen—even though I can’t express time in hours for people who lived by the sun, moon, and stars, not the clock. Another website tells exactly when dawn and dusk happen on any given day in any given setting. It’s not just how fast a ship can go, but a horse, a man, a woman. All these details take time to calculate. I don’t want to stop in the middle of a fast-moving scene to figure it out. So that goes into the outline. From that the rough draft can move swiftly.

Now this new one is ready for me to plunge in and live it as the words flow.

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Solstice

Sunlight skims across the green moss on the old oak’s trunk around midday on this Solstice of 2020. The tree overlooks Pleasant Plain across the river, the plain also bathed in light, the higher mountains behind remaining hidden in dark fog.

Solstice has been observed throughout the world since distant times past as people became aware of this turning of seasons that brought longer days of light. With that realization came many celebrations of hope for light against the darkness.

In my ancient stories of Crete, feasting and dancing commemorate the day, while in Ireland the yule fire and decking of garlands add to festivities at this time marked by their great stone circles.

Today many of our own symbols of celebration echo these ancient tributes to the light.

In this year when a deadly plague has thrown a cloak of darkness over our world, our need for light feels especially keen. Yet even now, signs of hope arise. A vaccine. A triumph of science and dedication. The daring of brave healers and workers. The many kindnesses toward friends and family, even strangers. The calm efforts of caring for those around us, if only by staying home.

Remember the turning toward light this day and the hope it brings. Happy Solstice.

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Beta Readers

One of my Montana writer friends, Debbie Burke, just drew me into a role I’ve seldom played–the role of beta reader for her upcoming novella, Crowded Hearts (brand new cover by Brian Hoffman shown below).

Cover for CROWDED HEARTS (art by Brian Hoffman)

Beta readers, those generous people who are willing to slog through an author’s rough drafts and offer critiquing, are vital members of the writing craft.

I’ve been depending on these readers from the beginning of my long years as a writer, usually three or so per book. But while I have occasionally read for fellow critique group members and other friends, I have never fancied myself a beta reader.

It’s not an easy task. You may be looking at the work of someone with a different voice than your own, a different style. And I’m sensitive to an author’s feelings.

When I lived in Montana some twenty years ago and first joined a critique group there they called me the comma queen because that’s all I felt competent to mark on the scenes members presented each week. Of course when a professional editor got hold of my first to-be-published book I decided I knew nothing about commas. Even so, as a writer I have a fairly solid sense of grammar and can do line editing. Or scour for typos. But reading for content and substance? That’s another thing.

Fast forward to now. I have been in editing mode, trying to get my own ancient historical series polished, but decided it was time to rest for a while and go on a reading binge.

I soon got wrapped up in Debbie’s series of thrillers, having met her during my Montana years. She was in one of those critique groups I joined there. Most of her series is set in the remarkable beauties of that mountainous state. She calls them “thrillers with heart.”

Not only do they take you on exciting and perilous adventures, but there’s some intriguing romantic tension as well. Her protagonist, Tawny Lindholm, is a saucy redhead who gets mixed up with a sinister fellow while she’s grieving over the loss of her husband. And she finds help from Tillman Rosenbaum, an arrogant high-powered attorney with plenty of issues of his own. The sexual tension between her and the attorney becomes a sizzling feature of the series.

When I finished reading Debbie’s Book Four, Dead Man’s Bluff, which takes Tawny and Tillman on a side trip to Florida during Hurricane Irma, I wanted to plunge right into Book Five, but that isn’t out yet. I emailed Debbie and told her how much I liked the latest installments and asked when I could read Book Five—no pressure, of course. Just happened she was putting the finishing touches on the novella, which is an interlude in the ongoing story. She asked if I would be a beta reader for it. Hungry for the next word in the series I said sure.

Not only did I experience the delight of knowing what happens next, I found I was able to offer some substantive suggestions. When Debbie gave me the copy to critique she told me to be brutal. I think that released me to the incisive response that could actually help her. And maybe because I’d been in editing mode with my own and had become more open to comprehensive changes there, I was better prepared to offer a few thoughts for Debbie’s work–which I must say was quite fine to start with but I think became even better. In fact I really enjoyed the role of beta reading.

In return, Debbie has agreed to be a beta reader for my upcoming one. I know she’s good at that. Some years ago she read one from my series and she offered plenty of unvarnished wisdom that kicked it up to a higher level. After all, we authors have to face the sometimes brutal truth if we’re to make our work shine.

Debbie Burke

So here’s to the beta readers we writers all need so much. It’s hard to see our own mistakes or our failures to communicate. We know what we mean, but the words may not convey what we intend. An extra pair of eyes becomes gold.

And here’s to Debbie’s Tawny Lindholm thrillers with heart. I happily recommend them. Debbie’s new Crowded Hearts will be out soon on Kindle.

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