Idyllwild Incidentals, Part Three

 

Continuing our tour of the Idyllwild Area Historical Society’s cabin, we move into my favorite thing to stare at: old photos! If you already have a firmly established idea of what the characters in my Loveda Brown series look like, you may or may not want to continue reading.

But I think you’ll find they aren’t too far off! It’s fun to find the facts behind the fiction.

 The photos of photos in this blog were taken from the book, “The San Jacintos” by John Robinson. If you love to research, too, the Idyllwild Public Library has even more shelves dedicated to local history:

Where are these folks headed? Why, to Lindley’s sanatorium if you had tuberculosis (before the fire) and to Lindley’s hotel if you didn’t want to contract tuberculosis (after the fire). It seems no one wanted a combination of both. Go figure.

For my Loveda Brown series, I removed Dr. Lindley’s specs and made him just a bit more animated than his portrait might suggest. Ahem.

I’ll bet you didn’t know California had “alps”. Atta boy, Lindley.

Here, we have a sample of the gorgeous old family photos I perused. I could hardly choose which ones to show you. The 1901 shot is so well done. I want you to soak up the hats, the fabrics, the shoes, the mustaches…the attitudes (oh, Ella!). The way Louie has a warning hand (or two?) on Ernest’s chin. Some things never change. Mrs. A’s doing the same with baby Henry, but she is sporting a mixed media outfit, so…extra credit.

The photo of the Domenigoni family is the one hanging in Ms. Nelson’s lobby. Remember where I mention the Swiss lace? This photo of Guanache is the inspiration behind Carlos. And I could not resist a shout out to films made in the mountains and the movie stars that eventually rolled up the hill, including Katherine Hepburn and Elvis Presley. Although I drew a pretty picture of Penelope, the first film shot in Idyllwild was made in 1914 by Cecil DeMille: “The Squaw Man”.

The grand finale: Mr. and Mrs. George B. Hannahs. Here he stands with, I guess, the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota? I got the suspenders right. The couple is portrayed as elderly in my series, and from the look of it, Sarah Hannahs is not having it. Sorry, Mrs. H. Doesn’t their little boy, Ray, have the sweetest cheeks? To note: Sign on far left says, “Burros for Rent”. Sign on right, “Rayneta Post Office”. A handsaw lies over a log on the ground to the right.
My books are entirely fiction, as you can see, but the full flavor of Idyllwild’s rich history is something I try to capture on every page.

 

Idyllwild Incidentals, Part Two

 

Today, we explore the Idyllwild Area Historical Society’s museum. Last weekend, I spent some time there, soaking up community history and clearing up a couple of mysteries with the lovely and helpful docent on duty, Jayne.

The Historical Society’s been closed up tight ever since Covid hit town, but they held their grand re-opening over the Memorial Day weekend. A yard sale and an Ice Cream Social marked the event. If you missed it, their next Ice Cream Social will be held over the Labor Day weekend on Saturday, September 4th from noon to 2:30pm. Board members will be standing by to scoop up sundaes until the ice cream runs out. Toppings, treats, and root-beer floats! Ya’all come!

Meanwhile, let’s take a quick look at the physical artifacts in the room. These items take you back to the days of pioneers, loggers, miners, and homesteaders in the San Jacinto mountains.

The heart of a home is the kitchen, and a cook required multiple skills to pull off a meal for a family or a work crew. You raised or bought your meat and produce, harvested or butchered on the regular, canned or preserved extra for winter, swapped with your neighbors in a pinch, and hoped that weather or pests or cattle rustlers didn’t ruin all your hard work. In addition, your animals required provisions, horseshoes, housing, breeding, birthing, and veterinary care.

You didn’t take your vittles for granted, and just having a cup of tea was a big deal, as Loveda will tell you.

We have a lot of items relating to the logging and sawmills that ran at various creeks around Idyllwild. In the 1880s and 90s, timber was plentiful and the market keen. Incoming railways needed lumber and a lot of lumber went, of all things, to a local box company that made orange crates for farms off the hill. Teams of oxen (11) pulled the rough timber down from the high country, and after the lumber was milled, teams of horses or mules pulled wagons (3) down the treacherous road to Hemet.

Idyllwild Incidentals, Part One

 

Idyllwild has always been beautiful. When Loveda Brown falls in love with this tiny town in the heart of a big mountain, it’s absolutely an invitation for you to join her there.

Wander up with us.

The first question you’ll ask upon arrival is, “Where’s Loveda’s hotel?” The answer is, “In my imagination.” Loveda and her neighbors are almost entirely fictional.

There’s no trace left of the original Idyllwild Post Office, but here’s a snap anyway:

There really was a George and Sarah Hannahs. Mr. Hannahs ran a sawmill in the logging days and later was Idyllwild’s first postmaster. He named Idyllwild Rayneta, after his son, and if you’ve read Book One, you already know the rest of the story!

But Idyllwild historians will tell you that there really was a Walter Lindley, and he really did run the Idyllwild Inn. And the Idyllwild Inn is still there!

The second question you’ll ask is, “Where is it?” Fair enough. You probably parked in front of it without realizing it. No need to find Foster’s Meadow. The Inn is central to the town. I asked the proprietress at the front counter whether any of the original buildings were still standing. She thought perhaps one cabin still had an original stone foundation, but that was all. Over one hundred years for a working hotel means constant updates and remodels. You can find out more about today’s Idyllwild Inn here.

The Inn began as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, as you’ll recall, and if you’ve read Book One, you also know that it burned down under mysterious circumstances in a freak April snowstorm in 1904. Nothing was saved but the piano. I didn’t make this part of the story up, but I did give this piano further adventures in Book Three, and I plan to keep it in Lindley’s new ballroom as a little piece of continued mystery in the series.

Nor did I invent the part about Lindley’s medical cronies giving up and wandering away from the venture afterwards. However, I use Lindley’s medical knowledge to help solve a mystery in Book Three, and his medical colleagues will fictitiously appear as characters in Book Five.

I have always pictured Mr. Lindley as a self-made man, quick on his feet with big ideas. Rather like a Willie Wonka for Idyllwild. His White Owl coach ran guests up the hill from Hemet and was pulled by white horses, and this was too good not to put in the books!

In reality, the Idyllwild sanatorium was one of Mr. Lindley’s later in life ventures and considered one of his very few failures. He also spent most of his life in Los Angeles involved in politics, opened an orphanage, started a hospital, and was even the President of the LA Humane Society. I like the guy. If you need his nitty gritty, click here.

Read more about Mr. Lindley and Mr. Hannahs in this well-sketched history of Idyllwild.

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.