Idyllwild and the Cahuilla

 

This is the view of Tahquitz Peak as you stand in the little dot on the map of Idyllwild. If you had this sitting over your rooftops for enough years, wouldn’t you create a legend about it?

As the next Loveda Brown book prepares to launch, I want to share some of the fascinating historical wanderings I did in Idyllwild last month. There are always more fun facts about my materials than will ever work into each of my mysteries! Loveda Brown: Summer Storm highlights the legend of Tahquitz and the Cahuilla peoples who migrated through the San Jacinto mountain range and left the name of their shaman chief behind.

We will address the legend another time, but if you take a drive up and spend a day in Idyllwild, these places are on the “must see” list.

Our first stop is in the Idyllwild County Park. You won’t get charged for parking if you’re only driving in to see the pictographs/hieroglyphs painted hundreds of years ago on granite boulders. The gate is welded shut, if you’re wondering, and—I have to think my guess is as good as anyone’s—all the symbols I looked at remind me of maps.

The second location for Cahuilla pictographs is north from here, in Pine Cove. I put the directions in my phone and followed them precisely, but I circled back and forth on a tiny residential road while my phone insisted I had arrived at my destination. In frustration, I pulled over and asked the phone why it was making up lies and it said, “GPS Location Service Lost”.

I looked around. No signs. No other vehicles parked at random. I got out of the car to stretch and if I hadn’t stepped across the road to look at the view, I would have gone home disappointed. The secret entrance to the pictographs is well hidden and not tailored for visitors. This is an ancient tucked-away haven that was worth searching for.

The third item on the Cahuilla bucket list is sitting in the Idyllwild Nature Center. You are encouraged to tour the entire place, as the park is located within an ancient Cahuilla Indian village, but what you’re looking for are grinding stones and mortars. Acorns from oak trees were a staple in Cahuilla cuisine and once ground into flour, fed a family…or a nation.

Come back soon for three more places in Idyllwild that fuel the mysteries of the Loveda Brown series!

Joshua Tree National Park

 

Spending a few days in Palm Springs was the first trip Hubby and I have made in…one year, two months, and twelve days. Our four housebound walls suddenly stretched to infinity and beyond. Such space! Once the shock wore off, I’m pretty sure our next reaction was universal: time for margaritas by the pool.

After that, we went exploring.

Our day trip to Joshua Tree National Park was possible because of moderate spring-time weather, a gentle sky, and a chilly wind. We drove from scenic points to high desert overlooks and through prickly cacti meadows. We hiked to the top of Ryan Mountain and along massive rock and boulder trails where climbers scaled their heights, tethered only with a rope or two.

Joshua trees aren’t actual trees, but the world’s largest yucca plants. On average, they live to be 500 years old but they say the oldest could be 1,000 years old. They bloom around April or May, but we missed the event and found only the remains of the conical blooms at the ends of their branches.

The Mojave Desert carries its own unique ambiance. The air is distinctly distilled, stripped of tomfoolery and run through a sandstone purifier. It serves your oxygen at an elemental level. Occasionally, with velocity. It commands respect.

And yet. There’s something about Joshua trees that brings Dr. Suess to mind. Skull Rock will forever link to Peter Pan. The landscape presents ample space for the imagination and the opportunity to slow down, spread out, and breathe in a fresh perspective. An unexpected trip outside the box.

Ride along and tell me what the park makes you think of…

From the Desk of Dr. Jones

 

I never chose the detective life. Like the ability to land on my feet, I discovered it the hard way. You have to accept your destiny because fighting it lands you in a plastic cone with one almighty hangover.

But I digress. Allow me to introduce myself properly.

My name is Dr. Indiana Jones. Indy to my close friends. Dr. Jones to the rest of you. SugarNose FluffButt ChunkyMonkey TinyToeBeans to my adoptive family, but sometimes they just squeal at me and it’s basically the same thing.

How do you do?

As to pedigree, my birth mother was a streetwise alleycat from Ramona, and I assume most of my smarts come from her. I never knew my father, but I do thank him for the gift I have of becoming invisible and undiscoverable when I choose to be. I could have come from Otay Mesa and had a fabulous accent too, but we won’t cry over spilt milk. I’m a gray striped tabby with an elusive ginger coat beneath it, the product of a million cats on the wrong side of the tracks.

Kit-napped.

As to history, my brother and I were kidnapped at three weeks old, ripped from our mother’s arms and advertised as orphans. While we certainly knew better, one cannot overestimate the amount of fame and fortune this brought us. There is something about an underdog that makes humans reach for their wallets. (The word ‘underdog’ is an oxymoron. Dogs are both the Roomba and the rulers in the kingdom of pets. Annotation: this article.) Destiny plucked me from the gutters and a life of crime and dropped me on the straight and narrow.

It didn’t hurt too bad.

The two of us were divided between neighboring homes, and while we make an effort to visit over the holidays, we are comfortable with our own space. I admit to owning an entire family to myself, living in a penthouse with views into treetops filled with birds, having my meals served on golden plates, and when the mood strikes, strolling through lush gardens and giving the lizards a stern talking to.

Born ready.

Childhood is fleeting. All chance of remaining a small cuddly puff with large innocent eyes vanished within a fortnight. With age comes responsibility and, if one must be honest (and one must), a respectable paunch and whiskers substantial enough to firmly establish one’s presence in the room. The bachelor life is welcome, and if I’ve gained twenty pounds and can span the length of five feet in a proper lounge by my first birthday, I’d say it’s a testament to my good country genetics and the ability to accept myself for who I am.

Practicing presence.

Now that you understand a little of my background, you can appreciate that becoming a detective was, for me, the most natural thing in the world.

Investigation skills.

No cup unturned.

My capacity for observation is not to be underestimated. I can see in the dark. I can sense vibrations in the atmosphere. My nose tells me where my humans have been and with whom. If a moth flutters past a windowpane on the other side of the house, I will hear it.

And I will hunt it down.

Going to shoelace jail.

I move with ninja stealth, mete out justice with a firm hand, and haul the criminals to prison. The death penalty is fraught with politics. I won’t discuss the subject, even over a bottle of port.

Other qualifications include studies in academics, physics, calculus and so forth, and Nerf weapons training. I have a concealed carry permit, but I’ve been known to stop criminals in their tracks with one hard look. Intellect and finesse renders violence unnecessary.

Educated.

The stories that follow are cases I deem tolerable for public consumption. In all modesty, they are pieces of my finest work. I hope they will inspire other tabbies to use their powers for good.

The pondering pear.

Love on Your Library (A Giveaway!)

It’s National Library Week, and this picture makes me happy.

What? It appears utterly common, downright drab, and blends in with the native wildlife? Every mystic portal does, my deary. Only those with the gift of imagination know better and enter on tiptoe. There are aisles full of magic spells, swirling colors, acrobats. Dragons and race cars and music. Open a cover, turn a page, and you will disappear.

Turn right, and a keeper of words will tell you exactly where the unicorns are hidden. Turn left, and you will find a room where words can be taken home forever. Move forward fifty paces and unearth that one 80’s movie you can never find on Hulu.

But. If you take forty paces north by northwest and turn left at the yellow arrow, you’ll discover a treasure trove full of books marked with a purple “E”. Brace yourself.

Meet the lovely Azar Katouzian, the Principal Librarian at the Escondido Public Library who graciously hosted me as the guest author for this month’s writer’s group. It was a pleasure speaking with them about the creation of my Loveda Brown series and encouraging everyone to write on. In conjunction with the event, I donated copies of my books to their collection. I’ve always believed that books are meant to circulate, and when you’ve finished mine, I hope you pass the books on to more friends who love to read or donate them to your local library.

In addition, I now have a page of Resources for Writers on this website that brings all the articles, videos, podcasts, and groups together in one place. These are hubs of information that all authors can utilize. If you’re trying to get your writing projects to the next level, explore this tool box.

Meanwhile, as I was feeling some library nostalgia after my presentation, I ordered some swag for my office wall: a fun poster from the ALA Store. You’ll never guess which one I chose.

It’s been a while since our last giveaway! To get your name in a drawing for a free signed copy of Loveda Brown Comes Home, drop the name of the book you’re reading right now into the comment box below!

Winner pulled on May 3rd at midnight PST.

My Goodreads Reading Challenge

I love me a good reading challenge. I raised my fabulous five surrounded by books and, so far as I can tell, I think it’s done them well. The youngest is a tender twenty years old and can figure out the letters they put into math and occasionally spouts the Greek at me across the kitchen, just to make me shiver.

The alphabet. Don’t underestimate it.

We’ve graduated from the good old days when kids had nothing better to do during the long lazy months of summer but chase chickens around the backyard, annoy ant hills with a magnifying glass, or walk with the fam two blocks south for a visit to the public library. The attraction had as much to do with the free air conditioning as it did with seeing how many borrowed books we could squeeze into our little red wagon.

Every summer, the library held a Reading Challenge for kids. And we knocked it out of the ballpark. The kids still have medals to prove it. Perhaps the idea of a reading competition feels as exciting as watching grass grow or—follow me here—a golf tournament. But as my third child would say, you are a bucket of wrong.

And there comes a time when a mom can no longer live vicariously through her children.

Have you seen my Goodreads Challenge page? It’s Fitbit for readers.

The idea is to set yourself the goal of reading “X” amount of books during the calendar year and then, as you finish each one, you post it to your list along with a review if you so choose. Not just for a summer…for an entire year!

Come here, Goodreads.

First, I had to throw a huge backlist together of my favorite books that I’d already read (possibly multiple times) and it keeps me up at night, knowing I’ve missed actual thousands of titles because I was too chicken to post the kid books. I’d love for you to think my reading list is classy and intellectual, but I love “Where the Wild Things Are” and Ezra Jack Keats and every single Nancy Drew ever written, even though Caroline Keene is a lie and our relationship has been strained at best, ever since she came clean.

After posting the backlist, I had to remember what I read last year and hurt myself trying. It’s mostly accurate. But a goal for this year? I took a step back and made the rational decision that a book a month felt healthy. I do have a full-time job writing, but after all, I’m also in a real live Book Club. If I read nothing else, I can post the dozen current books that these hip and happenin’ ladies put in my path. Right?

Sigh.

I’m supposed to be halfway through “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. Instead, I’ve hidden under the covers at night and binge-read Sue Grafton. My secret goal for the Reading Challenge is to get all the way through her alphabet before the Book Club catches on to me and I get the boot.

This is how my kids got into trouble at school, reading fiction under their desk instead of their math book sitting on top. I suppose that explains my twenty-year-old, though.

I read “Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy like a good girl, and it gutted me entirely. I don’t know if I can handle that level of emotional shipwreck every month. I mean, I’m already doing that with menopause.

Last week, I posted “F is for Fugitive” on Goodreads. I’m claiming every page. Kinsey Millhone is steady, predictable, and teaching me about my own craft. It annoyed me that she didn’t describe herself until page fourteen and then said her hair was “dark”. Dark? Like brunette? Black? Mahogany? Glints of red or blue in the direct sun? Sure, it’s good enough to use those details on the suspects, but we readers need foundational reference. If you don’t tell me, I will make it up, Kinsey!

But that’s not the kind of stuff you post on Goodreads. You have to say things like, “Delicate and fresh, very soft tannins with fruity aromas. A little vivid for my taste, but overall well balanced and smooth on the palate.”

Sigh.

I will keep my opinions to the blog and keep my enormous pile of TBR books in the little red wagon next to the bed.

It’s full of the alphabet, G through Y, with a couple of Kiplings, a secret Madeleine L’Engle, a Shel Silverstein side wall, a bottom layer of JK Rowling, a mix of CS Lewis and EB White, random Janet Evanovich numbers, and a flashlight.

What’s in your little red wagon?

Author Q&A, Blooper Reel

 

We fell apart so many times. I don’t know how Oprah is going to handle me on a stage. Or her backyard in Maui.

But practice we must, as I’m presenting my books in zoom Book Club meetings now.

Book Ends is a group of savvy readers in the St. Louis, Missouri area. This gorgeous group read The Great Loveda Brown and has invited me to speak at one of their monthly meetings. I’m fairly certain wine will be involved. And my cat is a non-negotiable. I can only hope we don’t dissolve into a fit of giggles.

Or maybe we will. If we aren’t having fun, why are we here? After Kid Five’s questions, I think I’m ready for just about anything you can throw at me. Including the camera. Use the comment box below and test it out. What’s a question you have for me? And while we’re at it, invite me to your Book Club this summer. Let’s talk poppycock.

Meanwhile, this video is blessedly short. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Six

 

This video short concludes our round of author interviews, held by Kid Five and thoughtfully dissected by yours truly. I had a hard time pretending only the two of us were going to watch it afterward. Thinking like that resulted in laughter and wisecracks and going wildly off-topic. The alternative was pretending that a million people were watching, and the idea made me want to run from the room in hysterics.

To find a calm middle ground, I quoted movie lines between filming.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

“I’m just gonna have fun with it.”

Tucson. 1916.

I guess you had to be there.

“You’re killing me Smalls.”

In this final episode, we chat about how I come up with the titles for my books, when I first considered myself to be a “professional” writer, writing male characters, and hitting an emotionally charged scene that took all my nerve to write. It might not be the one you think it is.

This video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Five

A desperate fit of giggles sabotaged this interview by Kid Five. We cut them off of both ends of the video clip and even so,  you can hear the clothes dryer beep at the end of our author interview, sealing our fate as forever amateur fireside chatterers.

We’re going to make some new ones up in Idyllwild, outside among the pines. After the weather turns. You know my feelings about snow.

Although, now that I consider it, it’s hard to have a fit of giggles when you’re about to freeze to death.

Probably.

In this episode, Kid Five asks me about what literary success looks like. Moms everywhere will relate to my answer. Have I ever Googled myself? What is the most difficult part of my artistic process? Do I believe in writer’s block? How much content did I have to edit out of The Great Loveda Brown before publishing it?

This video was supposed to be three and a half minutes. We settled for short, sweet, and to the point. Then we went to fold laundry. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Four

 

Do you remember the moment you realized you could read? It’s an intense memory I have. I remember looking around, seeing words everywhere, and understanding that they were all trying to talk to me. I imagine it was something like the time Kid Five put on his first pair of glasses and looked around at the world.

“So,” he said. “This is what the place looks like. I’ve never seen individual leaves on a tree before.”

He was twelve. And possibly he’s never forgiven me for being such a clueless mother. He held this interview like a pop quiz and enjoyed it so much more than I did.

Fair.

In this episode, Kid Five and I discuss the time I first realized I wanted to be a writer, my “absolutely must have” item or ritual when I write, where I get ideas for books, and what new and interesting parts of history I’ve discovered during research. (Hint: those go into my newsletter!)

1912 is the year the Titanic went down, the “S” corset went out, and Boston’s Fenway Park went up. The first Eagle Scout earned his rank, Theodore Roosevelt passed the presidency to Woodrow Wilson, and Harriet Quimby was the first female pilot to fly over the English Channel. Life Savers candy was invented in 1912.

Have I always known that I was a writer? Is this a trick question?

This video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. Not a coincidence. Enjoy.

Author Q&A, Round Three

 

I wonder whether other author interviews are quite this eloquent. Sophisticated. Whether the author demands to breathe into a paper sack before-hand.

One fun fact about my series is that it evolved from a previous project, an unpublished manuscript titled Horizons. In it, I follow a branch of my family tree out of Texas and into the solitary mountains of New Mexico in 1888. Their struggle for survival and the years leading up to World War I were vivid, and the year 1912 rose to the top as an incredibly interesting time to live in America. I celebrated my fascination with historical fiction by writing an article for the NaNoWriMo blog.

My family tree has enough skeletons to populate several series. Facts that inspire fiction? In the words of the great Dave Barry, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Idyllwild has a tantalizing history just begging for someone to gild it.

In this episode, Kid Five and I chat about the research behind The Great Loveda Brown, how many hours a day I sit at my desk, which character in the book I relate to the most, and a childhood author that influenced me. Kid Five follows these with wanting to know whether my written characters have historically based people beneath them and asking what I would tell younger and aspiring writers at the beginning of their writing journey.

This video is around three and a half minutes. This is how long it takes to brew a perfect cup of tea. This is not a coincidence. Enjoy.