On Retreat in the Huachuca Mountains

portraitArletta Dawdy writes from Northern California but her heart is in the 19th century American West. When immersed in the stories of strong, independent women, she has been known to get lost in their adventures. Arletta’s social work background lends itself to character development. Her extensive travels in the Southwest add believability to her settings. HUACHUCA WOMAN and BY GRACE are the first two books in The Huachuca Trilogy.

On Retreat

by Arletta Dawdy

A time for contemplation.  Time to recharge my batteries.  Time to take inspiration from the setting.  A time to let go of daily issues, routines and people. Such were my goals in heading to southeast Arizona on a six week retreat of my own design.

I write about the Huachuca Mountains. My stories were born here on vacation and research trips by living in the area, breathing in its history and beauty, listening for the tales of bygone people.  Over the years I photographed, kept journals and wrote the first two novels of the Huachuca Trilogy while in the locale and away from it. Every so often, I had to return to engage my muse, sharpen her perceptions and find the voices of my characters once again.

The story ideas found roots and growth on the high peaks washed by wind, rain and snow. Songbirds, butterflies and sixteen varieties of hummingbirds gave color and sound among the ancient oaks and silvered sycamores. Following Ramsey Creek opened the doors to my imagination with Chiricahua Apaches, Buffalo Soldiers, miners, loggers and homesteaders peopling the canyons, cliffs and desert floor.

In returning to the Huachucas this past spring, I immersed myself in the timeless domain where wandering deer and courting turkeys came to my doorstep several times a day.  Turkey gobbling heralded each new morning.  Late afternoon found a young deer tackling the hanging bird feeder, standing on his hind legs and snatching seeds from the rim. He honed his talent as the days went by. Three peacocks owed their existence to a sixty year history of ancestors introduced by a local rancher. No doubt his bride instigated the idea. These will be the last for all three are male, one of whom favored sitting on the carpenters horse at the edge of the driveway.

Arriving home one evening, a javelina escorted me to the cabin.  Also called peccaries or skunk pigs, javelinas are native to thehuachuca woman cover Americas, have a harsh odor and sharp tusks. My apprehension built as he neared the cabin and I worried that he’d go for the scattered feed or otherwise take up residence at mine! Instead he continued on his way, heading for the creek without a look back.  The next day, the javelina demanded a presence in my work; a fearless young boy appeared in Rose of Sharon, my WIP, seeking a “doggie” from a gathering of javelinas.  The child has no apprehension about the animals but the adults who gather fear for his safety and it is Rose who first knows of his danger and saves him.

Watching spring fill trees and bushes with new leaves and blossoms renewed my sense of place with deeper connectivity and intensity. Walking about the mountains, kicking at mineral-laden rocks led to a scene in which White Buffalo makes a bracelet charm for Rose. These story threads hadn’t occurred to me sitting at my computer at home in Northern California. They took off from my retreat experience, thoughts and dreamtime in the quietude of the setting.

My manuscript had been dragging with a lack of focus and motivation in the heroine. I knew, in my head, the conflicts she faced,  but they lacked the energy and vitality of well-written prose. It was as if, at home, I couldn’t feel these things and, therefore, my character couldn’t.  My words were flat, lacking affect, and so I had come up empty for long blocks of time.  The connectivity I sought evolved from “getting into the skin” of my characters and opening myself to convey who they truly are. That happened on retreat.

Written during a three-day retreat at the Russian River, close to home.

How do you recharge your writing batteries?

Meeting and sharing with other writers?

Going to nature and solitude?

HUACHUCA WOMAN is a work of historical fiction set in Southeast Arizona from 1886 to 1961. A veranda rail breaks. Barn filth is turning to dust. A rattler’s nest needs clearing. Peeling paint on the old house demands attention. At 75, Josephine Nichols hasn’t been up to caring for the Lazy L Ranch. She’s thinking of selling out when spring break 1952 brings the Nichols cousins to the ranch and its matriarch. Recording the treasured stories of border life as only Jo can tell them, they get more than they dreamt of, bargained for or knew. Jo’s love of the land and family are keys to her life-story. She tells of lost loves; of fears and fights against abandonment; dangerous bouts of depression threaten her stability; and guilt walks with her through too many years. The stories are framed against borderlands events and characters: Pancho Villa, Geromino, Mexican Revolution and WW1. A pact develops between the threesome to insure that the ranch endures. Nine years later, as Jo is put to rest at Sentinel Rock, The Lazy L Historical Ranch is a vibrant learning center for the preservation of the history, cultures and legends of Cochise County, not the least of which is of the HUACHUCA WOMAN.

BG Cover photoBY GRACE traces the heroic journey of young Grace Pelham as she travels geographically and psychologically into the Far West of the late 1890’s. Following her father’s death, she leaves Albany on a quest to find her vocation and stumbles into unexpected troubles and rewards. Thrust out on her own, she must escape the threat and murderous accusations posed by her benefactress’ nephew. With changing identities, fearsome obstacles and personal challenges along the way, Grace profoundly affects and is affected by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a married man and his family, a lost child, Jane Addams, a male-dressing horse woman/prospector, a rigid minister and his tightly corseted wife, the Irish mob, and Chinese friends. When her nemesis confronts her in a syphilitic haze, threatening to kill her and a loved one, Grace prevails. Her signatory “By Grace” is applied to her jewelry designs. The Blue Opals of southeastern Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains promise opportunity and a new life.

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What’s Up, Doc?

This came across my e-mail recently and I just had to share it with you. English is truly an interesting language!

arrowThis two-letter word in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is ‘UP.’ It is listed in the dictionary as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and fix UP the old car.

At other times, this little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look UP the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it soaks UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP. One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP, for now . . . my time is UP!

Oh . . . one more thing: What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?

U
P
!

Did that one crack you UP?

Don’t mess UP. Send this on to everyone you look UP in your address book . . .. or not . . . it’s UP to you.

Now I’ll shut UP!

Published in: on June 21, 2013 at 7:07 am  Comments (4)  

Celebrate Flag Day

flag_day_waving_flagToday, June 14, is Flag Day. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States, in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. The United States Army also celebrates its birthday on this date.

The tradition of the first flag day observance began on June 14th, 1885. Bernard J. Cigrand, a 19- year-old teacher at Stony Hill School in Waubeka Wisconsin, placed a 10 inch, 38- star flag in a bottle on his desk then assigned essays on the flag and its significance. This observance was also the beginning of Cigrand’s long years of fervent and devoted effort to bring about national recognition and observance of Flag Day. The crowning achievement of his life came at age fifty when President Wilson, on May 30, 1916, issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day. Then in 1949, President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating the 14th day of June every year as National Flag Day.

Flag Day is not an official federal holiday; it is at the President’s discretion to officially proclaim the observance. On June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first (and only) state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday. New York statutes also designate the second Sunday in June a state holiday as Flag Day.

Perhaps the oldest continuing Flag Day parade is at Fairfield, Washington. Beginning in 1909 or 1910, Fairfield has held a parade every year since, and celebrated the “Centennial” parade in 2010, along with s other commemorative events.

One of the longest-running Flag Day parades is held annually in Quincy, Massachusetts, which began in 1952. The 59th Annual Appleton, Wisconsin 2009 Flag Day Parade featured the U.S. Navy. The largest Flag Day parade is held annually in Troy, New York, which bases its parade on the Quincy parade and typically draws 50,000 spectators.

Federal law stipulates many aspects of flag etiquette. The section of law dealing with American Flag etiquette is generally referred to as the Flag Code. Some general guidelines from the Flag Code answer many of the most common questions:

  • The flag should be lighted at all times, either by sunlight or by an appropriate light source.
  • The flag should be flown in fair weather, unless the flag is designed for inclement weather use.
  • The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
  • The flag should not be used for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
  • The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
  • The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.
  • The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it, or attached to it.
  • The flag should never be used for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
  • The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
  • When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

Read a more comprehensive set of flagetiquette rules for display of the American Flag.

Do you celebrate Flag Day? Do you fly a flag?

Published in: on June 14, 2013 at 7:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Meet WILLA Award Author Janet Fox

Janet Fox’s Young Adult novel, Forgiven, was a WILLA Literary Award Finalist in the Forgiven with awardWomen Writing the West’s 2012 competition, and it is a story well-deserving of this award. This is a companion novel to Faithful, which takes place in Yellowstone Park in Montana.

Synopsis: Flirting on the edge of danger, Montana girl Kula Baker finds herself on the streets of San Francisco, alone but for a letter of introduction. Though she has come to the city to save her father from a cruel fate, Kula soon finds herself swept up in a world of art and elegance – a world she hardly dared dream of back in Montana, where she was no more than the daughter of an outlaw. And then there is the handsome David Wong, whose smiling eyes and soft-spoken manner have an uncanny way of breaking through Kula’s carefully crafted reserve. Yet when disaster strikes and the wreckage threatens all she holds dear, Kula realizes that only by unlocking her heart can she begin to carve a new future for herself.

Welcome, Janet, and congratulations again on your award. Tell us how Forgiven evolved. Did you start with the idea of writing a story centered around the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake or with the character?

I began with the character – although I’ll confess that setting forms an integral part of my author photoearly process. Kula is a secondary character in my first novel, Faithful, and I fell in love with her. But she’s a tough character, and initially my editor was leery; she worried that readers wouldn’t be able to connect with her. When I submitted the draft, I’m happy to say Jen changed her mind – or maybe Kula changed Jen’s mind.

I do like to create events in my historical world/fictional world that would interest readers beyond the story arc, and in that sense, taking Kula to San Francisco at the time of the great earthquake seemed like a perfect fit. Kula’s world is shaken to its foundations metaphorically and literally.

What made you decide on the genre of young adult historical romance?

I’ve been writing most of my life but my early projects were all for adults. It wasn’t until my mother died, and I found among her papers a stack of unpublished children’s stories, that I realized that my voice is that of a young person. I guess you could say I suffer from arrested development. As for historical, I’ve always loved history, and it seemed to fit the character of Maggie in Faithful, who popped into my head one day as I was taking a walk, and then she just wouldn’t leave me alone. And the romance: aren’t all young women obsessed with romance? I know I was, so I just put myself back in those shoes and relived all the aches and pains and desires I had as a teen.

Faithful high resAnd why the setting of Montana?

That walk I was taking? That was here in Montana one summer day when we were in our cabin in the mountains. Maggie wormed her way into me through the magic of those mountains. And then I had to send her to Yellowstone, which is both beautiful and treacherous, because what she was living through had to push her way outside her comfort zone. Again the setting resonated with the underlying theme.

Kula began in Yellowstone because that’s where we meet her in Faithful, and her core values and ideas are formed as a result of her upbringing there and then in time spent in Bozeman.

What is the insight you, as an author, received from writing these books and what do you hope your readers will take away?

Interesting question. I don’t consciously look for my theme up front when I begin a new project; I always start with a character and a snip of a situation. I never know what will evolve from that. It’s only in the later stages of drafting that I begin to identify my “theme” – what my readers might take away, what Thomas McCormack calls the “master-effect” – so that I can tie imagery and symbolism together to make a resonant whole. Each of my novels does something different in that regard.

I suppose, though, that what I’m doing when I write is searching for meaning. I’m looking for answers. I guess if I ever really find those answers, I’ll stop writing; and for the moment I have no plans to stop writing.

Do you have a favorite author who has inspired you?

I have many. From Dickens, I’ve tried to learn the art of the cliff-hanger. From Austen, the beauty of the perfect sentence. Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), crafts constant tension; M.T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) does historical with rich resonance and veracity; Tolkien constructs evocative settings; Hemingway writes lean and spare; Joyce writes with poetry. I admire many, many contemporary kidlit authors: Maggie Steifvater, Rita Williams-Garcia, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Laini Taylor, Gary Schmidt, Polly Horvath, Richard Peck, Judy Blundell….I could go on and on.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I was in third grade.

Seriously, my third grade teacher sent a poem I wrote to the town paper, and when I saw my name in print, that was it. I was hooked, and never stopped thinking about becoming a writer.

Have you mentored other writers?

Yes, I hope so! I’ve given critiques as donations for various charities, and I’ve spoken at many writers’ conferences. I taught high school for four years and I love encouraging young writers; a young woman here locally won a contest that included my mentorship, and she has great talent and promise. I like to encourage writers. But I do have to limit the amount of time I give away, because I have many projects waiting for me.

What advice do you have for kids who aspire to write?

Read. Read all the time. Search for support and don’t be discouraged – it takes time to build skills. When you’re ready, study the craft. Find a support network – I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) early in my career, and the advice and information I gathered there was crucial. Keep writing, and try writing different things in different genres; you might find your voice in picture books or in poetry or in westerns. Don’t give up.

Your third YA novel, Sirens, is now available. Is this part of your series or is it a Sirens front cover.indddeparture?

Sirens is a definite departure. For one thing, it’s set in 1925 New York. For another, it’s slightly edgier than the first two, with gangsters and Prohibition, and a missing brother who may or may not be dead and who may or may not be a ghostly presence.

What project are you working on now?

I have three projects in various stages, and they are a real departure for me. Two of them are middle grade fantasies (although one does have historical elements) and the third is a young adult science fiction novel. I move back and forth between them as I finish drafts, or as my agent is reading. I don’t like to be idle.

You are traditionally published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin. How difficult was it to land that first contract? And do you have an agent?

I do have an agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and I’ve been with her since before she sold Faithful. She is instrumental in focusing my career. She came from the editorial world, so she is hands-on with my projects, giving me lots of feedback and nurturing them until they are ready to sell. I had sold my very first book, Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2006), on my own, but I’m thrilled to have Alyssa on my team.

Learn more about Janet on her Website.

The other two important things I did for my career was join SCBWI, and I went back to school (Vermont College of Fine Arts) for my MFA in writing for children. Both of those steps took me from a wanna-be writer to a serious and committed author. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also been determined to grow and learn, and that’s really what it takes.

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