Author Giveaway, The Gold in These Hills

 

If you climb a mountain to talk to God, you’d best be prepared for Him to talk back.

“Sit and stay a while,” He’ll say. “Get comfortable.”

With a backward glance over my shoulder, I can see that my writing career has been anything but a straight line. One year in, it most resembles mountain climbing. Lots of crashing through the underbrush and scaling boulders. The occasional rattlesnake scare.

It’s been an adventure and so much fun that I forget to stop every little while and check my compass.

Today, I want you to meet a new author friend, Joanne Bischof. I discovered her in the usual way: crashing through the internet looking for authors who write historical fiction. Her name flew by, and after a couple of curious clicks, I became a fan. One of her books was in my hands, muy pronto.

We had some things in common.

She writes female protagonist, historical fiction, pioneer American, turn of the century, tiny mountaintop…inspirational romance.

Well, now.

And then I discovered she lives…in actual Idyllwild. Hm. I was going to live in Idyllwild for an entire week at the end of July for our yearly family Bible camp. Coincidence? I think not.

I did something I never do. I emailed a complete stranger and asked if she wanted to meet for coffee and talk writing.

And she said yes.

It percolated in the back of my mind all week during camp, this Friday afternoon coffee meet up. How should I present myself? Could I ask all my questions without taking notes? What if I was too intimidated to ask anything at all? What if she asked me something I didn’t know? Like my name?

Joanne met me at the coffee shop, and we introduced ourselves while we waited for our order. Outside, the sky grew dark and began to spit. Rejoicing in the possibility of rain, we took seats on the veranda at the rail and started talking.

You, gentle reader, already understand the lovely idea of a summer storm in Idyllwild. And its implications.

The wind gusted a bit as we discovered almost immediately that she worked at the very camp I’d been staying at all week. That we’d been together all along, incognito.

The rain began as Joanne told me about a new book she was releasing in August.

Lightning streaked overhead and thunder boomed as I admitted to a new book I had released in July.

“Mine is set in Idyllwild,” she said as the hail began. We dragged our chairs away from the rail.

“Mine, too,” I said. “It has, um, it’s called Summer Storm.” The heavens opened. The streets began to flood.

“I had to do a lot of research for it during Covid,” Joanne said. “On this area, on 1902, on the Cahuilla, on the first settlers. Hard to do when you’re trapped at your desk.”

“Oh, boy.” I took a long sip of latte. Gutters overflowed.

“Did you know there are a couple of abandoned gold mines up here?” she asked.

This is when we moved our chairs up against the building and the wind blew so hard we were getting wet, anyway. Our coffee date had passed its polite expiration, but we were trapped at the coffee shop by a storm that raged for two hours solid before easing up. Plenty of time to ask all the questions, exchange all the stories, and for the shocking amount of coincidences to soak in.

Because, of course, I’d just had a week of classes to remind me that there are no coincidences. I took the opportunity to reset my writing compass to true North. Reminded myself to see the forest instead of constantly running into trees in my haste. She showed me a gentler way to author.

When it was finally safe to swim to our cars, Joanne promised me an advance copy of her new release, The Gold in These Hills. It arrived today and I’m passing the excitement forward and giving it away to a lucky blog subscriber!

Visit Joanne on her website anytime, enjoy one of her videos here, and follow her on all the things.

To enter a drawing for this copy of her new book, drop a random fun fact from one of my books in the comment box below. You know, like the name of the mine where Red lives. Or something. Ahem.

Entries accepted through September 9th at midnight and I will announce the winner in the newsletter on September 23rd. (You do get my newsletter, do you not?) Winners must provide a continental USA mailing address to claim the prize.

 

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.

Murder Mystery Mayhem

 

Salutations favorite peeps! My incredibly good mood this morning could be blamed on several things. September is finally here and my anticipation of snuggly sweaters, flamboyant scarves, and leather boots is entirely too optimistic but is undeniably arrived. I am at the bottom of my first perfect cup of tea for the day. And I managed to stack up a total of five dead bodies last month.

It’s motivating.

I wasn’t that kid in middle school who could work a Rubik’s Cube. It crossed my eyes and when no one was looking, I peeled the little stickers off and pasted them back together on each side because my OCD was off the charts, seeing those colored squares out of place. I spent all of high school drama practice learning to french braid my own hair. It’s like underwater basket weaving, blind folded. These things can be done, but you have to access whole other parts of your brain to attempt them.

And I only have so much brain.

My official first Murder Mystery is accomplished, is what I’m trying to tell you, and writing it felt exactly like riding Mr Toad’s Wild Ride while attempting to french braid my curly hair and recite the alphabet backwards. There was a lot of lurching and laughing but also occasional shrieks.

The plot involves a fresh heroine, Loveda Brown, who races into the tiny town of Idyllwild, California in the Year of Our Lord 1912 and much mayhem and murder and mistaken identities occur. Technically classified as both a “historical” and a “cozy”, you won’t find violence or grisly bits on the pages but you will find humor and small town relationships because I am absolutely making this into a series. Hopefully, at least the first two will be available by Halloween. That just feels logical.

If you like things that go bump in the night, drop me a comment here. Let me know if you want to be on my list of super-sneaky, sworn-to-secrecy beta readers, the peeps who read my drafts and tell me which parts require tightening up. Like a noose. I’m currently taking auditions for my next villain and he or she must be willing to kill for all the right reasons and clever enough to get away with it. Tell me about your fave mystery, whether it’s a book, TV show, movie, or pandemic conspiracy theory. Some day, you might even find your name in one of my books.

Dead or alive.

Click this image to read the first chapter of “The Great Loveda Brown”.

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When You Can’t Go to the Mountain

I was supposed to be in Idyllwild today.

All week, actually.

Every year for a million years, even before we were married, Hubby and I were attending the Bible School up there in July.

Most of the fam is up there right now, and I can tell you – without any peeking online whatsoever – what their cabins look like and where they sat in the dining hall and exactly how they will saunter from the general assembly in a half hour from now and head over to Gilboa hall for classes.

The visions of those “left behind” at the rapture and those cast onto a desert island (or a ferry dock) as the party boat sails away without them and others who have walked into the ice cream shop only to discover that their favorite flavor was sold out only moments before…are nothing quite this startling.

Alas, unlike stay-at-home moms, humble servants of the public can’t gallop off into the woods at will.

It’s different.

And so, I sit at the keyboard wondering how, in the first time since never, you bring the mountain to yourself, instead.

The atmosphere there is crisp in the morning, as you sip coffee and the pines streak early sunshine from Tahquitz. So I sat on my deck and sipped tea and admired the sun streaks in our oaks.

The rabbits look the same.

Then they do the daily readings and I’d make a note here or there for pondering later and after announcements, we’d all settle in for morning classes.

So I read this morning, enjoying years of notes, laughing at my twenty-year-old so very naive ones, and follow them along as they grew in understanding, things erased and clarified and re-connected into the bigger fabric of this message of life and love and redemptive glory.

I play in my treasure chest a while and humming, rise to put my house in order for the day.

This God we worship, He is here.

He is there, too.

He is wherever you stand, sharing this moment with me; there is nowhere that He is not.

The difference then, might be the putting aside of everything in order to spiritually feast.

It’s arranging your life in order to leave it, to wander a mountaintop with a huge family reunion, and just breathe Him in.

It’s a deliberate focus.

Up the mountain and down the mountain is like comparing Thanksgiving to plain old dinner.

The yearly gathering ends with a deep satisfaction, tempered with sadness that it’s over.

But – big surprise – my kids are still hungry the next day. For that kind of effort, it should feed us for at least half a year, right? Nope.

We pray for our “daily bread”.

We ask, standing next to Daniel who would never see his mountain again, for just bread and water. For enough.

“Whether I am on the Mountain or at the office, I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content,” says paraphrased Paul.

So I think, as the party boat sails away, that being on a desert island once in a while can have it’s benefits, if only to prove that the humble daily dinner can become a feast with proper intentions.

Two things occur to me.

  1. There is more food available than a king’s table could hold, right here on the empty beach.
  2. I am not alone.

When you take the thing you wanted, the thing that was outside of you, that you could see and touch and want, and put the thing inside of you, you become the thing.

Are you what you eat? Education and opinions and disciplines and whatever it is that you decided was worth swallowing are continually changing the landscape of who you are.

His days are full of every element of Thanksgiving, should we choose to act like it.

This week can hold every element of the Mountain, should I choose to act like it.

It’s a deliberate focus in much smaller bites.

So I will connect with others that feel “left behind” and remind them that we are, indeed, also part of the Mountain, wherever we stand right now.

I will have meals with them and we will admire the gifts in our treasure chests and skip the elaborate planning and leave satisfied. Sufficient for the day.

The party boat is inside of me.

The Mountain is inside of me.

I will deliberately make space for study and I will deliberately make space for family reunion and I will deliberately make space for holding still and just breathing Him in.

Here.

Today.

And I am grateful.

Idyllwild Pines