Please welcome today’s guest author Jeffree Wyn Itrich. Find out what Jeffree has read about in a romance novel that she’s just dying to try in real life – given a few parameters. Please do your part to make Jeffree feel welcome by leaving questions and comments for her in the comments section.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself – when did you first know you wanted to write – what was your journey to publication like – do you have a spouse or significant other – kids? Pets? Where in the world do you live? Where did you grow up? What real life events and experiences fuel your writing?
I first knew I wanted to write about the age of six or seven. I’ve always been a story teller and told stories as soon as I could talk and wrote them down when I learned to write. My mother influenced me as well when she showed me a book that her father gave her as a young girl where she wrote her poetry. I must have been around 10 when my mother gave me my first blank book. But unlike my mother who never completely filled hers, I filled mine and the one after and the one after that and several more through the years.
My first book, The Art of Accompaniment, was published in 1987 by North Point Press under my first married name, Jeffree Sapp Brooks. When I remarried it was republished by Border Books as a softcover under the title, Spice It Up, using my current name, Jeffree Wyn Itrich. Since the mid-80s I have been a freelance writer, publishing various articles under both names.
I’ve been married to Earl Itrich since the summer of 1992. We were married in a hot air balloon over the New Mexico high desert in the balloon depicted on the cover of Destiny. The ceremony took place at 7:00 in the morning with a bevy of friends gathered round. When we returned to the liftoff site after the ride to pack up the balloon we found our guests a bit tipsy. They were supposed to wait for us to return to open the champagne but they got bored and opened the bottles. It was pretty hilarious.
I live in San Diego, where I was born. I’ve lived in a lot of places, including New Mexico, San Francisco, New York City, southern France, Hawaii, and Israel. I returned home in 1998 to help care for my aging mother. I have two great step-sons who are married to wonderful women. The oldest son and his wife are the parents of a feisty, adorable two year-old boy and a three month old son who is a bundle of pure joy. And their dog is a boy too so lots of testosterone going on in that household!
For pets we have two that we call ‘the girls’. Rachel is a small gray tabby who behaves like the quintessential princess. She owns me. Our black cat, Elvira, came to us three years ago as a skittish and frightened stray who wouldn’t allow us to come near her. We began feeding her and eventually she gradually began trusting us. Now she comes and goes like she owns the place. She even sleeps on the bed with my husband, Rachel and I. Even though we both care for her Elvira clearly prefers my husband which is fine with Rachel.
As for what real life events fuel my writing – absolutely everything! As a child I was sure that witches lived in one house on my street, while another I believed was inhabited by elves. Throughout my life I’ve seen stories everywhere. For many many years I wrote non-fiction feature articles. Then one day I realized I had dozens of fiction stories in my head that needed to be written down. Destiny resulted from one of those life experiences, a balloon rally I flew in at White Sands.
Q: To tell or not to tell – do you tell people what you write? Do your close friends and family members read your books? What have some of their reactions been?
Yes, all my friends and family know about my writing. Many have followed my career for years. Friends and family have been incredibly supportive and seem to like my stories. My book, Destiny at Oak Valley, surprised many of them as they didn’t realize I’d written a romance much less a novel. Several of my work friends in the university and the Alzheimer’s research community have also been quite surprised. My boss doesn’t understand where I find the time or energy to write after a long day in the office. I tell her that it’s something I simply have to do, that writing is as natural to me as breathing, that I can no sooner “not” write as not sleep or eat.
Q: What really makes you tick as a writer? What drives you? What inspires you?
An idea, that’s what makes me tick. Once I latch onto an idea I can’t let it go. I get really excited about it and have to see the idea through to fruition. And once I start working on a storyline and manuscript I live in my own world. My characters talk to me, egging me on. They even get after me if a distraction takes me away from my manuscript for a few days. I know it sounds odd but sometimes it feels like I’m just the typist and they’re telling me what to write.
Q: Please tell us a bit about Your Book.
Destiny at Oak Valley is the story of Rachel Kingston, an independent, high-spirited 21st century woman who accidentally flies back in time to the Wild West of New Mexico. She is completely out of her element but is determined to make it back home, except for one problem: Matthew Bradshaw, a man who challenges every notion she ever thought about love. Since a devastating love affair many years before Rachel had shut herself off to men. But deep in her heart where she tries never to go she begins losing her well-practiced control and starts falling for his charms. She keeps telling herself that what she feels is only because she is in a place not her own but neither she nor Matt can stop the passion growing between them.
Without revealing too much in short the story contains a good deal of romance, adventure, history and a touch of magic.
Q: Please tell us a bit about the idea behind Your Book. What inspired the story? What part of the story did you get first? How did it build on itself till you had the complete story? What was it about this story versus other ideas that compelled you to write it?
Destiny at Oak Valley began during a balloon ride at the White Sands Balloon Rally in New Mexico many years ago. I was flying in the balloon with my pilot friend, Kathi Henderson. It was an odd morning. Very unusual fog covered the white sand dunes. Kathi and I lifted off through the fog and found ourselves alone above the fog; other balloons were just starting to rise through the fog bank. I described this very scene in the book. I turned to Kathi and said, “Wouldn’t it be wild if when we landed we found ourselves in 19th century New Mexico, in the Wild West?” Kathi laughed and commented on my zany imagination. After the rally later that day our group visited a small town in the area which got me thinking about life in 19th century New Mexico. The zeal, the sacrifices, the difficulties of living in a place far from large cities. At that point the story of Destiny began to take form. By the time we got home at the end of the weekend I’d pretty much laid out the whole story in my head. As for what compelled me to write this story, like I said above I didn’t have a lot of choice. My characters took up residence in my head and began nudging me to write “their” story.
Q: Which comes first for you? Characters? Plot? Setting? Conflict?
Oh my goodness, I wish it were that easy. None of them comes first, all of these things happen at once.
Q: Was there one particular scene that was your favorite in Your Book? Please tell us about that scene. What happens in the scene? Why is it an important scene in the book?
The scene in the raging ravine is probably my favorite because it’s when Rachel and Matt realize that they have to work together as a team to survive. While they aren’t without their difficulties after that it was a pivotal point in their relationship. I also loved writing the biscuit scene. It wasn’t much of a scene initially, more of a description really. I asked my sister to read the first draft. One of the comments she came back with was ‘show me what happens, don’t tell me’. She was right. I laughed the whole time I wrote the scene as it now appears in the book.
Q: What are your boundaries as an author? Are there certain things you won’t write about? Are there certain situations that you will never put your characters in? Are there certain sexual practices that your characters will never indulge in? Why have you adopted these particular boundaries?
If I have a rule it is that I won’t write about something that someone could try to duplicate and in so doing harm themselves or someone else. I have been dealing with this issue more in the sequel than in Destiny. I adopted this rule because too often unbalanced people take something they read in a book or saw in a movie and duplicated a character’s actions and harmed others. I don’t want to give a reader, who may be unstable, fodder to hurt another person.
As for sexual practices, in the very first draft of the Destiny manuscript that no one saw but me it had a lot of very explicit sexual scenes. The closer I got to publication the more those scenes bothered me because I realized that I was giving away too much detail, telling the whole story instead of letting the reader use her/his imagination. One of my all time favorite book and movie scenes is in Gone with the Wind when Rhett Butler carries a defiant Scarlett O-Hara up the staircase. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind what happened at the top of those stairs. I think it is one of the sexiest scenes of all time and yet neither the book nor the movie revealed an inch of sexual detail. I’ve often thought that I could do that. So I took out my explicit descriptions and replaced them with enough information to give the reader a pretty good idea of what happened without providing all the details. I know that readers have very good imaginations and don’t need me to spell out everything. I wanted them to come up with their own ideas of what happened between Rachel and Matt. What it looked like, what it felt like. Since the book’s publication many readers have confirmed that they like how I handled this.
Q: Are there any subgenres you absolutely cannot envision writing? Why?
Erotica. It’s not me. Now my sister, she would be good at it.
Q: Please tell us about the characters in Your Book. What strengths do the characters have? What weaknesses?
Rachel is a strong, independent, no-nonsense 21st century woman who suffered a devastating love affair in college. After that she focused on building her career and gave up on love. Then she meets Matt in the 19th century who tosses every notion she had about men right out the proverbial window. Even though she is attracted to him, painfully attracted to him, she refuses to give in to the growing passion between them. She is as stubborn as stubborn gets, that’s one of her biggest weaknesses. The more she feels drawn to him the harder she fights to maintain her independence and sense of self. But as their relationship begins to develop she feels herself splitting between her old self and a deep feeling she can’t ignore. Her strengths parlay into her weaknesses.
As for Matt, he finds Rachel a complete conundrum. It’s not her beauty but her strangeness. He doesn’t know what to make of her independence, her spirit, her unwillingness to be awed by him. No woman has ever ignored his overtures and Rachel seems to ignore them as though they were a swarm of annoying flies. But he doesn’t know that he is getting to her and she does everything she can to make sure he doesn’t catch onto the growing infatuation she can’t ignore. Matt is your quintessential 19th century manly man. He knows that life in the territory is hard and he finds it perplexing that Rachel doesn’t function well in the 19th century. Of course she hasn’t told him she is from another century because she senses he won’t believe her. Regardless Matt finds himself drawn to her sexually, intellectually and physically. He can’t figure out how to get to her and it near drives him mad. His weakness is his inability to accept something out of the ordinary and hers is that she can be terribly bull headed.
As I wrote the characters I envisioned that Rachel looked like the actress Olivia Wilde and Matt could have been the twin brother of Christian Bale or a young Tom Selleck, who I once met. The man is stunning. His smile could melt a butter factory.
Q: Most writers know a lot of things about their characters that never make it into the book. What can you tell us about your characters that didn’t make it into the book?
Matt was very very close to his sister who died and whose daughter, Emily, he cares for as though she were his own. Emily has a fairly prominent role in the book but the deep sense of devotion he feels for his niece was not something I addressed at length. It is apparent though that he cares for and takes responsibility for her welfare. Emily has a reprising role in the sequel.
Rachel is such a complex character there is much I could have delved into had I wanted to write a 400 page novel. Like Matt she has a strong love of family and misses her 21st century family more than I’ve revealed.
Matt’s brother James is married to a most interesting woman, but rather than go into detail about Catherine in Destiny I opted to reveal her intriguing story in the sequel. She has turned out to be one of my favorite characters.
The balloonmeister/jeweler is someone I would have liked to explore a bit more. He’s a funny little character that I kept on the mysterious side as I didn’t want to give away his ultimate pivotal role in the story.
Q: What internal conflicts or character weaknesses did your characters have to overcome in order to reach their happily ever after ending?
Rachel had to finally come to grips with the fact that she was in love with Matt and be willing to accept the consequences of loving him. She desperately wants to return home to the 21st century and when given the opportunity she has to make up her mind whether love or her life back home will win. Matt had to stop looking at Rachel as a sexual object and start seeing her for the extraordinary woman that she is. That wasn’t easy for him because that’s pretty much how he viewed all women. That said when they both finally overcome their hurdles (initially) the sparks fly. But it isn’t until the epilogue that the story reaches its happy ending.
Q: What do you envy about the characters in your book(s)?
Rachel is a lot gutsier than I am. I wish I had her gumption and verve. But were I in some of her situations I have a feeling I might have reacted in the same way.
I love the self-sufficiency and autonomy of the 19th century characters. Life was simpler in some ways but much more difficult in others, however they don’t know that because all they know is the life they’re living. It is through Rachel’s eyes that I’m able to show both the simplicity of their lives and the obstacles that have been overcome by our time’s inventions and technology.
Q: Angst or humor? Which is your favorite in the books you write? The books you read?
I definitely try to infuse a little of both as without one or the other the story can get a little silly or tiring. In the books I choose to read myself I look for both aspects in book summaries.
Q: Please describe your book in five words that are not in your blurb.
Adventurous, suspenseful, magical, fiery, historical.
Q: What aspect of writing do you find the most difficult?
Without sounding self serving, there really isn’t an aspect that’s difficult. I love the whole process.
Q: What kind of writing do you find the most fun?
Dialogue, especially conversations with conflict. Sometimes I have to stop myself from overwriting dialogue and use some prose and description. Otherwise it will be a screen play, not a novel.
Q: What do you know now after writing and publishing a book that you wish you’d known at the outset?
I learned to never stop believing in myself. I kept telling myself that someone out there has been waiting their whole life to read the book I have inside me.
Q: What advice, resources, or useful information can you offer aspiring authors who might be reading this interview?
Do your research. It’s so easy on the internet; take advantageous of it. Find out everything you can about your setting, the environment in which your characters live, what they do, how they live. Think through every aspect of your characters personalities and delve into their emotional and psychological foundations. Write up profiles on each of your characters. Get to know them, everything about them.
Educate yourself on aspects of your story about which you are a novice. For example, is there a legal aspect to your story but you don’t know anything about the law? Dig, find out everything you can. Don’t guess at anything. Get your details right. Are you stuck on something? Call on friends and family with expertise in that area and ask to pick their brains. When you tell them why they will be delighted to help.
That said it’s easy to spend all your time researching and use it as an excuse not to write. What I do is develop my storyline first. Then I research what I need for the first chapter or two. Next I write those chapters and continue to write, stopping to research on an as needed basis. That way I don’t get too caught up in the research and never get to the writing.
Once you finish your manuscript set it aside for a couple of weeks or even a month. Don’t look at it. Then go through it as though you were a new reader and look for errors and inconsistencies. If you can afford it hire an editor to fine tune your final manuscript. If you can’t afford an editor call upon your most literate friends and ask them to read the manuscript for you. Tell them you want an honest opinion. Not only do you want to know if the story reads well and moves along but ask them to look for typos and story incongruity. Better to find out and fix problems before you submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher than later when it’s returned with a rejection slip and no specific reason why.
Q: Which drives your novels more – the plot or the characters?
Both. One doesn’t happen before the other.
Q: What are your favorite television shows and do any of them impact what you write?
My favorite shows these days are much different than the types I watched 10 or 20 years ago. These days my favorites are Once Upon a Time, Grimm, Downton Abbey (and other PBS British dramas), Blue Bloods, NCIS and Vegas. Actually the television shows I watch serve as escapism and rarely influence my writing but every now and then something in a plot sparks an idea.
Q: How far is too far in erotic romance? What are your limits for your books? Do you like to color inside the lines or push the boundaries when it comes to the love scenes in your books?
I am admittedly pretty conservative when it comes to romantic details. I admire writers like Diana Gabaldon who wrote the Outlander series. She does an excellent job of detailing sexual scenes but in a tasteful way. I stop my descriptions pretty early into lovemaking as I prefer to give readers the opportunity to use their own imaginations for the rest of the scene.
Q: What makes the hero of Your Book the ideal hero?
My hero, Matt, has heart and a good head on his shoulders, which personally I find to be very romantic traits. I’ve always been attracted to smart men. He’s smart and brazen but has a tender side that melts the strongest resolve. He is confident, centered and knows himself well. He’s Mr. No Nonsense and the essence of the 19th century man pursuing his own providence. Matt doesn’t think about things much; he pretty much knows immediately how he feels about an issue or situation. Like any good romance novel hero Matt is the epitome of eye candy, that helps! Mostly, Matt is balanced. He has his attributes and his drawbacks, like any good hero.
Q: What has been the hardest scene you’ve ever written and why?
The hardest was probably the scene at the Oak Valley house where Rachel witnesses Matt’s treatment of his father at the dinner table. We see it through her eyes and he does not make a good impression. In my heart I knew that Matt was not disrespecting his father, he was simply tired of seeing his father degenerate from the worldly man he once was into a man that Matt no longer understands. Not knowing this history Rachel is furious at Matt for the way he treated his father. I work in Alzheimer’s disease research and my own mother developed dementia. This scene is very personal to me because I understand the difficult road a dementia caregiver travels down. It’s often a no-win/never-win situation. The other reason this scene was difficult was because of my innate empathy. I could feel Rachel’s anger at Matt, yet I fully understood his frustration. I had trouble finding the equilibrium in that scene because I knew and had experienced both sides.
Q: Authors have to develop thick skins to deal with reviews. Most books receive some mixture of good reviews and bad ones, simply because tastes are different and people like and dislike different things. Please tell us about one of your most memorable reviews and how it impacted your writing.
To be honest I haven’t had a really bad review yet (knock on wood!) but I’ve had mediocre ones which I find annoying. I don’t expect that everyone will like my books because as you say people have different tastes. I accept that as part of the nature of writing. I suppose I could accept a really bad review better than a bunch of pedestrian ones. I prefer that readers be passionate about my books and have an opinion one way or the other rather than indifference. Of course if I get a really bad review I may feel differently.
Please Answer These Questions As A Reader:
As a reader I am always curious about the reading habits of the authors I enjoy, so I have a few questions about your reading habits.
Q: As an author, where do you learn about books you might want to read? Do you research the books in depth before you buy them, read an excerpt or do you buy without a great deal of research?
A few years ago I discovered a great book website, Paperbackswap.com. It’s book trading and very cool. I post books I want to trade, and when I send a book to someone I get one credit that I can use to trade for a book I’d like to read. Whenever I’m in need of a book I browse the latest postings and see what is new to the site, which is generally not a new book at all. If the description sounds interesting I’ll swap for it. I also read reviews of new books in the Wall Street Journal, Amazon and my local paper, the San Diego UT. Generally I can tell right away from the plot whether it is something I might enjoy reading. If it’s an author that I’m not familiar with I go onto Amazon and read an excerpt before buying or swapping.
Q: When you are learning about a book what five words are most likely to get you to buy the book?
- Well-developed characters
- Atypical plot
Q: When you are learning about a book what five words will make you decide against the book?
Q: What can you tell us about your book that isn’t in the blurb?
While it doesn’t become apparent until much later in the book magic plays a major role in the story. It not only works for my storytelling purposes but it adds a surprising element that readers have told me they weren’t expecting but enjoyed. I decided to use the tool of magic to move the plot along when no other writing tool would suffice. I don’t want to say much more than that so I don’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read the book.
Q: As a reader are you finding the advent of self-publishing to be a positive or a negative within the industry? Are you finding more good books or are you having to search harder for good books? Please explain your answer.
I’m a big proponent of indie publishing. Years ago the only people who self-published were those that no traditional publisher would touch. It was called vanity publishing then and no respectable writer would even think of self-publishing. But the e-publishing world has changed all that. These days traditional publishers will rarely look at a manuscript by an unknown or one not represented by an agent. It’s understandable due to the high cost of publishing a book and the threat publishers’ feels from ebooks. They are trying to find the biggest bang for their buck. They can’t afford to publish anything that they aren’t absolutely positive will make them a profit. Unfortunately because of this a lot of very talented writers are being overlooked. And that is the joy of indie publishing today. No longer do talented writers have to accept the proverbial rejection slip; they can publish themselves. I think it’s great because as the old saying goes, the cream will rise to the top. Indie writers will rise just as traditionally-published writers will rise, if they are good. Considering how easy it is to search books on ereaders I’d say that indie publishing is giving readers a wider choice of books. Just because a book was turned down by one of the big houses doesn’t mean it isn’t worth reading.
Q: Has the way that you shop for books changed since the rise in the popularity of ebooks? Has how you shop for books been influenced by the rise in self-publishing?
For me, no, but for my husband, yes. We bought a Kindle last year and I assumed I would be the one to use it. But I have yet to read a single book on it because my husband hoards the thing. Before we got it he read fiction only occasionally. Now that’s all he reads. I think I need to go out and buy my own ereader.
Q: What are your favorite sub-genres to read? To write?
For reading, I am admittedly a fan of women’s fiction, mysteries, historical romance, just about anything on Oprah’s book club list, and plain ole literature.
For writing, I like to write about strong women and places I know well, hence the reason I wrote about New Mexico in Destiny. I lived there for a decade and even though it’s been a while since I moved back to San Diego the place left an indelible mark on me. I also love to write children’s stories. My first children’s book, The Rosebaby, is coming out January 2013. Writing children’s stories fulfills the whimsy in me.
Q: What are your least favorite sub-genres to read? To write?
This is hard to answer as I don’t read or write in sub-genres I don’t like.
Now for some just for fun:
Q: On Pinterest are you a A.) Hoarder in disguise (you collect images of everything you like) B.) Minimalist (you only collect images that fit in with some project – my next book – a home remodeling project – etc) C.) you’re not on Pinterest.
C – I’m not on Pinterest. But I have a lot of friends who are. Does that count?
Q: On Twitter are you A.) The life of the party engaging with my friends and followers B.) Mostly a promoter – I use Twitter primarily to promote my books C.) Mostly a lurker. I follow a lot of people looking for useful information – some of which finds its way into my books.
C) I don’t have an author Twitter page but we do have one at work and I oversee our social media. I use our organization’s Twitter page to educate followers about Alzheimer’s disease research.
Q: What’s your favorite social network? Why is it your favorite?
Facebook is my favorite at this point. I know there are quite a few out there and I do look at all of them from time-to-time but FB suits me fine right now. I have both an author FB page and a personal one. I like that I can interact with people and convey my point of view about life. I also like that I often find out what my friends are really thinking; their posts speak volumes.
Q: What’s your favorite holiday and why?
Just one when I have so many? Hmmm, I love Valentine’s Day because it’s a reminder of why I married my husband. It’s all about love. I also adore chocolate and on Valentine’s Day chocolate doesn’t have any calories.
Q: Did you read 50 Shades of Grey? Love it? Hate it? Somewhere in between?
I admittedly have not read it but it’s on my TBR (to be read) list.
Q: What was the last book you read that you really loved – enough that you’d recommend it to someone else?
It wasn’t the last but A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness will go down as one of my all time favorites. I was mesmerized by it, despite its length. I carried those characters around with me day and night and when I finished reading it I wanted to start all over just so I could keep them in my life. That to me is the mark of a great book!
Q: What’s your favorite place to read? Do you have a favorite food or beverage you like to eat or drink while reading?
Either on the living room couch or in the wingback chair in front of the kitchen fireplace, preferably with a little fire going. I’m a big tea drinker and keep a variety on hand. When I need something a little different I indulge in spicy hot cocoa. I also like to listen to instrumental music while I’m reading.
Q: If you could go backwards or forwards in time and have dinner with anyone in history who would it be and why?
The French writer, Colette, 1873-1954. She was a remarkable, albeit scandalous woman for her time. I read every one of her books when I was in college and yearned to live the life of one or more of her freethinking characters. Colette’s writings nurtured my dreams. Having dinner with her would be an extraordinary experience.
Q: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Definitely an extrovert.
Q: Describe your ideal romantic getaway?
Going somewhere I’ve never been. Recently we spent a week in Northern Arizona and a couple of years ago we drove up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. What astounding places they were. I was in awe of everything around me. Each year my husband and I take a trip to a new place. We love to discover and find what makes a place enchanting to the people who live there. We try to pick up on a place’s charm and revel in it. We relax and when we relax we become much more romantic because all the responsibilities of daily life fade away for a while. We also like to visit local wineries and microbreweries; drinking all those fine wines and ales also help set a romantic mood.
Q: You have three magic wishes – what would they be?
- Be in a position financially (have enough money) to start a foundation and use the money to make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate.
- Be able to sing, really sing. I could sing quite well when I was younger but I seem to have lost that ability. I’d love to have it back again.
- Be able to draw and paint very well.
Q: If you were to be stranded on a desert island with one of your characters which character and why?
That’s easy – Matthew Bradshaw. The man can do anything. He’s the original “honey-do” man. If we needed something to eat he would find us food. He would know how to build us shelter. He could summon help from passing ships. And he would keep me entertained in the bedroom, even if it was just a shack.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers about yourself, your books, your characters?
I live a pretty normal life. I have a day job and deal with commuting to work and doing the laundry on the weekends and grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning house and all the other mundane things we all must do. The only difference is that I HAVE to write. It’s in my DNA. I can’t not write; my passion for writing and reading is what gives my life meaning. Unlike others who spend their free time going to the movies or surfing (I live in southern Calif after all) or hiking or golfing or whatnot I spend my free time writing. It gives me endless joy. Besides that I doubt I would make a very good golfer and I’ve never been able to stand up on a surfboard so that’s a moot point.
Over the course of writing a book the characters become some of my dearest friends. It’s akin to a camp experience. You spend so much time with other campers that they become precious to you; then you depart and go your separate ways. But even if you never see them again they still hold a fond memory in your heart. That’s how I feel about my characters. Fortunately I don’t have to leave Rachel and Matt quite yet as I am immersed in writing the sequel. When I finish it I will miss them terribly.
Even though I may be working on one book my mind never stops thinking about what is next. I don’t think there’s a third novel for the Destiny folks but who knows? I never say never.
Q: Please share with us your five favorite hang outs on the web – these do not have to be book related. Please share sites other than your own website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- On Facebook: Words to Inspire the Soul (not my page, I just like it)
- Various news websites
- Food Network
- Keepsake Quilting and other quilting sites
- If I can have a 6th is would be Paperbackswap.com
Q: When you’re not writing what other hobbies or interests do you engage in?
I make quilts, garden when it’s warm, and cook. I’m a pretty good baker but don’t do as much as I’d like – unfortunately I also like to eat what I bake and that’s dangerous. I love to make quilts but they are time consuming. When I’m writing I generally leave off sewing. And when I finish writing something I revert back to quilting. Both are time intensive and I have very little time outside of work. I have to prioritize one over the other. For now I’m writing the sequel but when I’m done I’ve got several quilts to make for upcoming family events. A couple of years ago I got interested in making cheese and have made quite a few kinds but like writing and quilting it takes a fair amount of time and attention. The last wheel I made was a ; it came out fabulous. I need to make more of that one. It was a winner.
Q: Have you ever done anything in real life that you read about in a romance novel? Please tell us about that.
Not that I can remember.
Q: Is there anything you’ve read about in a romance novel that you’re dying to try?
Time travel! But only if I can have a return ticket.
Cover Blurb From Destiny at Oak Valley
Imagine flying in a hot-air balloon, getting caught in an eclipse and descending over 100 years into the Wild West of New Mexico, where you meet a strikingly handsome man who challenges every notion you ever had about love. That’s exactly what happens to independent, high-spirited Rachel Kingston, who doesn’t know how to get home, but must find a way without falling for his charms.
Destiny at Oak Valley
Rachel Kingston gripped onto the steering wheel so hard her knuckles turned white. She tried to keep her eyes on the road as she craned her neck to look at a map spread out over her sister’s lap.
“Rachel, I can’t find Oak Valley. Are you sure it still exists?” Lauren asked, her eyes scanning every corner of the Lincoln County map.
“Look at the foot of the mountain ranges, 60, maybe 70 miles north of here. I think it’s near Carrizozo Mountain,” Rachel responded trying to point to a small section of the map and keep control of the steering wheel at the same time. “I don’t remember exactly what Mom said.”
Lauren turned the map sideways, cocked her head accordingly and strained to read the map. Running her finger up along a faint line indicating a road, she moaned and shook her head.
“Man, it’s going to take a miracle to find this place; I’m not seeing it on the map,” Lauren scowled, eyes scanning the edge of the crisp, new auto club map.
“Don’t worry, have a little faith,” Rachel quipped. “We’ll find it.”
Rachel Kingston and her sister, Lauren, headed north on a narrow two-lane road out of Alamogordo, a small town in southeastern New Mexico, near White Sands National Monument and home to Holloman Air Force Base. She rarely ventured out of Albuquerque in the north except to pursue her favorite diversion, flying her brilliantly-colored, hot air balloon. In this part of the state, though, the wilderness reminded Rachel of how she loved the rugged, untouched terrain of southeastern New Mexico.
She glanced out across the high desert landscape and thought how more than a century before it probably looked no different. Snakeweed and grayish-green straw grass rippled in the warm, mid-day breeze. Tufted mounds of brilliant yellow chamisa choked the roadside casting a veiled golden glow across the uneven asphalt. Between the shocking-colored chamisa, yucca plants resembling ice picks pointed skyward, spiny cholla cactus and sagebrush blanketed the rolling landscape.
To Rachel, this part of the state resonated with images of the past. It didn’t take much imagination to visualize stagecoaches following the same dusty, worn road, bands of Mescalero Apaches standing guard atop the flat-top mesas, and an occasional outlaw crouching in the crooked ravines, awaiting wagons of unsuspecting new settlers.
The morning air was steeped with the intoxicating sharp scent of chaparral wafting through the car. Whenever Rachel ventured into the desert outback she smelled the land and its roughness, its raw soul, its belly. Here she felt alive, a part of the defiant land and its tumultuous history. Casting her eyes along the horizon, Rachel well remembered the region’s past from history classes. This land had seen it all: the cattle and Indian wars, the squandered dreams of fortunes found and lost, and the devastating droughts that callously slaughtered both animals and settlers alike. It was a land framed by sky-bound mountains, translucent pale blue skies and a proud people who believed a better life was possible here. Of course, many of those people expected to make their millions in the gold mines of Oak Valley, the elusive Oak Valley of her family’s past.
An hour after leaving Alamogordo, the sisters turned down an abandoned dirt road that led to a hill overlooking an old dilapidated town crouched in a valley. They scrambled out of the car to get a better look. Crumbling adobes and weather-beaten wood-framed houses hugged the road ahead, an occasional tumbleweed skirting in the wind.
“According to the map,” Lauren said, “this should be Oak Valley. It’s definitely a ghost town, Rach. But, look at it,” she grimaced. “It’s deserted and a wreck. I find it hard to believe we actually had relatives living in this dump.”
Rachel gazed across the valley landscape. “Of course it’s hideous, hon, it’s been neglected for God knows how long. I remember Mom talking about this place when we were kids, how her great-grandmother told her wonderful stories of living here. Hey, look!” Rachel pointed to a crumbling adobe building with a weather-faded sign that read, ‘Oak Valley Jail.’
“Too bad Rob and the boys couldn’t crew this weekend. Tommy and Jeffrey would have loved this,” Lauren said. “Rob’s a good guy to take care of them for the weekend; he knows how we like to bond at these balloon rallies,” she giggled.
“Your hubby is a good guy to take care of your kids,” Rachel interjected. Lauren cocked her head sideways. “Yeah, he is Lauren. You are so lucky to have him and your two rascals,” Rachel chuckled.
“Rascals?” Lauren asked, raising her eyebrows. “I’d say they are a little more than rascals; more like terrors when they want to be.”
“Runs in the family, doesn’t it?” Rachel posited, smiling.
Rachel gave her sister a quick hug. Lauren’s parents adopted Rachel when she was an infant, the same age as Lauren. They became inseparable from the moment they met. Ever since Rachel had earned her balloon pilot’s license five years earlier, Lauren had been her staunchest crewmember.
During the drive down to White Sands the day before for the September balloon rally, Rachel and Lauren decided that when they were done flying on Saturday, they would try to find the old ghost town of Oak Valley. Rachel was sure the town lay about 75 miles north of White Sands.
The women each put an arm around the back of each other’s waists and looked out across the panorama. “This must have been a beautiful valley at one time,” Rachel mused. “Look at all the trees.”
On the dale floor scrub oak, knotty pinon, forest-green juniper, stubby cedar, and brilliant wild flowers bejeweled the ground as though they were riding herd on the undulating terrain. Huge old cottonwoods with massive trunks, bent sycamores and lofty walnut trees with branches spread like wings graced a small creek traversing the center of the valley. Higher up, along the steep mountainside, tall white oaks and towering pines stretched for the summit.
“Hey look!” Lauren pointed to a large white house, a turret adorning each of the four corners.
Rachel glanced toward another house, at the other end of town, a stately Victorian with a narrow mansard roof.
“What a shame,” Rachel declared. “This must have been one of the prettiest towns in the state. I wonder what happened here.”
Lauren nodded her head in agreement. “Let’s go see it!”
The two women got back into the jeep and drove toward what was left of Oak Valley. They drove a hundred yards, and then Rachel slammed on the brakes.
“I saw a marker next to the road back there. Let’s check it out,” she said. Reversing the jeep, Rachel made her way back to the marker. It was barely visible and would have been easy to miss altogether. They got out of the jeep and stood in front of the sign. Rachel read out loud,
Oak Valley was founded in the late 1870s with the discovery of gold in the adjacent mountains. By 1890, it was the second largest town in New Mexico with over 3000 people residing in Oak Valley. It was considered one of New Mexico’s most desirable and thriving communities. When the railroad requested a subsidy to build a connecting line into town in the late 1890s, the town’s leaders refused, purporting Oak Valley did not need the railroad. Gold reserves dried up not long after. Without the railroad or the gold mines, the town quickly died, leaving only ghosts to tend to the valley of the oaks.
“What idiots!” Rachel moaned, shaking her thick brown locks from side to side. “What arrogance! This town could have been the jewel of New Mexico, but for a few overconfident town leaders who thought they knew better. ”
Lauren shrugged her shoulders. “They didn’t know, Rach. Maybe at the time they didn’t realize the railroad would be so influential. They couldn’t tell what was going to happen.”
Rachel stepped back, crossed her arms over her chest and looked squarely at her sister. “You know, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to watch economic trends. By 1890 the railroad was pretty much a fixture on the American landscape. It was changing lives, changing society.”
“That’s true,” Lauren admitted.
“For them to discount the importance of the railroad and to assume that they could survive without the assistance of modern transportation was about as idiosyncratic, small-minded and backward as they could get. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb!” Rachel repeated, nodding her head from side-to-side. Her green eyes flashed, filled with anger and exasperation.
“Come on, Rach. Don’t get all hot about the stupidity of something that happened more than a hundred years ago. Let’s just have a nice time, okay?”
Rachel nodded her head. “Yeah, you’re right. But, I’ll tell ya if I lived in this town then, there’s no way they would have gotten away with such idiocy.”
Lauren smiled and sucked in a deep breath of air. “I know, you would have set them straight from the get-go. More than likely they would have given in rather than face your wrath. Come on,” she urged, tugging on her sister’s hand, “let’s go see this ghostly town of our family tree.”
They drove through what was left of Oak Valley, first visiting the turreted house, then the old Victorian with the mansard roof. On top of the Victorian, they spotted a rusty iron-rail, a widow’s walk encircling the roofline, casting eerie pointed shadows onto the hardened ground below. The sisters walked around the two-story stone and brick house, inspecting boarded-up windows, a dead rose garden, an overgrown walnut and apple tree grove and an expansive wooden porch. At the back of the property, dominated by a grand cottonwood, stood what looked like an old outhouse.
Rachel stared at the porch and envisioned how it might have looked when there was life in Oak Valley. She squinted her eyes to a blur and imagined the outline of rocking chairs and potted flowers gracing the nooks and crannies of the porch. It seemed so real. She shook her head. The scene dissolved to reveal only a dilapidated porch.
Rachel felt very strange. Both fear and elation swelled within her. She sensed she had come home. Though she knew she had never been to the house before, or to Oak Valley, it felt strangely familiar.
They found the thick, oak front doors boarded up and posted with “danger of collapsing” signs. Lauren sighed, laying her palms on the door. “This was a lovely home at one time. These people worked so hard to build such an elegant house in this outpost. And now it’s being left to rot.”
Rachel stood back and closed her eyes. “Lauren, can’t you imagine women in bustle skirts and funny little hats holding a tea party on the porch?” She reached back and whisked her thick brown, shoulder-length hair up into a bun on the top of her head, demonstrating a Victorian hair-do.
“Huh?” Lauren responded.
Rachel opened her eyes, looked at Lauren and let her hair drop. “Yes, and in the garden, can’t you imagine men in high collars and tailored pin-stripe suits gathered around, smoking pipes and discussing the futures of the mines?”
“Oh right!” Lauren laughed. “This was a gold mining town. I doubt it would have been so civilized.”
Rachel looked back at the porch and garden and tried to re-imagine it with a group of grungy, ill-dressed miners in their place. Somehow that imagery didn’t seem to fit. The buried beauty and sophistication of the home suggested pride and self-respect. She couldn’t explain it, but somewhere deep inside of her she knew the people who inhabited this place were not wild, ill-mannered or poorly dressed, but people who took the future of Oak Valley and themselves very seriously.
“I wish we could see the inside,” Lauren said quietly. “I’ll bet it was beautiful.”
“It was and we can,” Rachel blurted out suddenly.
Lauren stared at her. “What do you mean? How do you know?”
Rachel shook her head, feeling somewhat confused herself. “I don’t know. I but I know it was magnificent. Mahogany lined walls, a heavy, carved staircase, stunning imported rugs and tapestry draperies and stained glass windows and—–“
“Hey!” Lauren interrupted her sister who rambled on in a dazed-like manner. “You’re worrying me. You’re always such a no-nonsense person and now you’re babbling on as though you’re in a trance.” She snapped her fingers in front of Rachel’s face. “Hey! How do you know all this? Have you been here before?”
Rachel snapped out of her reverie, smiled slightly and hunched her shoulders. “No, I’ve never been here and I don’t know how I know. I just do. Like I know there’s another way in.” She took off around the corner of the house.
“Huh?” Lauren responded, following her sister.
Rachel ran to a little shed off the northeast corner. With a tug, she opened the door, and then brushed away some old hay that covered the floor to reveal a door in the flooring. When she opened it, she looked up at Lauren who stood behind her with her mouth open in surprise. Before Lauren could say a word, Rachel bolted down a stairwell.
“You coming, Lauren?” she called from deep down inside.
“Well, I can’t let you go in there by yourself, can I?” she answered timidly, stepping down onto the old wooden stairs.
The sisters followed a musty, rank-smelling corridor that led to another door. Rachel pushed on it repeatedly until it opened. They climbed into what was the kitchen.
The two walked through the dilapidated house, being watchful of corroded floorboards and small animals that had taken up residence. Rachel glided through the house as though she had lived there for years. Finally Lauren stopped asking Rachel how she knew so much about the house and Rachel was thankful because she couldn’t figure it out either.
The house was a shell, a fragment of its former glorious years. Though they could still see the fine wood, it was greatly decayed and rotted in many places. Shreds of once opulent draperies barely covered the boarded-up windows. When she discovered the staircase was too decayed to risk visiting the second floor, Rachel sat on the bottom stair and plopped her head into her hands.
Lauren looked squarely at her sister and saw her eyes filled to the brim with tears. “Why is this house affecting you so?”
Rachel shrugged. “I feel this uncanny sense of grief here. I know it as well as my own apartment, but I don’t know why. I’ve never felt such a connection to a place before. I can’t explain it.”
“I can’t either and I suggest we get out of here. It’s giving me the creeps,” Lauren declared. She grabbed Rachel’s arm and led her out of the house the same way they entered.
Outside, they walked through the dead rose garden and headed toward the car. Rachel stopped and looked back at the house one more time. “This breaks my heart,” she said, her voice unnaturally quiet. “This home shouldn’t be left deteriorating at the foot of a forgotten hillside.”
At the edge of the garden, Rachel nearly tripped over a small stone plaque, embedded in the ground. Although weather-beaten and worn with age, she could still read “La Querencia.” She smiled. She knew the term well. La Querencia, the place of your heart’s desire. It was a phrase people often used to describe their passionate feelings for the rustic charm of New Mexico.
Rachel thought about how since birth she had heard the term, but had never been able to apply it to herself. Many of her friends at Polzer Incorporated relocated to New Mexico because they found that special spirit, that special connection to the land here. Although she had been born and raised in New Mexico, she never felt that bond, never felt that ethereal level of comfort, as though she was meant to be here. But then she never felt much of anything, up until today.
Life to Rachel Kingston wasn’t about ethereal nonsense; her life consisted of working and flying her balloon. Rachel’s joint microbiology-business degree from college landed her a coveted top marketing position at Polzer Inc., New Mexico’s largest pharmaceutical firm. Except for flying balloons, Rachel didn’t have a social life, not because her boss required her to work 60 hours a week, but she demanded it of herself. She wanted to be the best and took her responsibilities seriously. She refused to let herself be dependent on anyone for anything. She told friends and Lauren that she learned her lesson early.
In college, Rachel dated Bob Evans for a couple of years. At the time, Rachel thought Bob was the love of her life, even letting her grades slide when she first became entranced with the medical student. For two years she neglected herself and supported Bob to help get him through school. She kept telling herself it was for their future, that Bob adored her. Because he spent every free moment at the library or the lab, Rachel praised him for thoroughly committing himself to his career, to being the best. After Bob graduated from medical school and dumped her for his blond lab partner, she decided men were a wasted distraction. She resolved to never let another man get in the way of her goals again.
Rachel dropped to her knees and ran her fingertips over the words on the plaque when something shiny caught her eye near the bulging roots of an old oak tree. Digging in the dirt, she uncovered a large, oval cameo on a gold chain. “Lauren, look what I found!”
Lauren joined her sister on the ground. Rachel buffed the face with her shirt until they could clearly see an image. The intricately carved cameo portrayed a very handsome man looking into the eyes of a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Rachel.
“I can’t believe it’s in such good shape. It’s not cracked or even tarnished.” Lauren turned over the cameo squinting at something on the back.
“What is it?” Rachel asked. She crouched next to her sister and read the inscription, “To R, My Querencia, Love M.”
“You should have it,” Lauren said putting the necklace into Rachel’s hand. “It’s got your initial on it and this woman looks like you.”
“It’s not my initial,” Rachel laughed, ignoring the comment about the resemblance. She looked down at the cameo in her hand and ran her forefinger over the finely etched picture. It wasn’t the woman’s face that disturbed her, but the man’s. She felt as if she knew him. She gazed at his mustache and his shoulder-length hair, and somehow she knew he had blue eyes the color of the sea and a smile that could soothe the deepest wound. Looking at his eyes caused her breath to shorten. She felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and longing, as though she somehow missed this man, as though he had once been a part of her life. Swallowing hard, she barely caught a lump in her throat. She wiped at a tear before Lauren noticed.
“It’s so old. I’m amazed it survived all this time out here,” Rachel said, hoping to distract Lauren from seeing the welling tears in her eyes.
Although it was stiff, Rachel got the chain’s catch to open. She brought it around her neck and clasped it closed. She touched her fingers to the cameo lying below her collarbone. It felt comfortable, it felt right, and it made her feel…..cherished. ‘How odd,’ she thought, still fighting the lump in her throat.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was made for you,” Lauren said. “And that woman looks a lot like you. She has that same far-away expression you sometimes get.”
Rachel smiled. Lauren was right. People had been remarking on that expression her entire life. The heavy strangeness of the afternoon began to take its toll on her. She needed to get out of Oak Valley, back to reality.
Rachel looked at her plastic sports watch. “Hey, we’d better get back. We’re supposed to meet the crew for barbecue dinner in an hour and a half and I’ve got to wash some of this dirt off of me.”
“You’re tellin’ me!” Lauren laughed, and holding her nose she ran toward the jeep.
* * * * *
Though tired from the previous evening’s barbecue, dancing, and chatting late into the night Rachel and her balloon crew dragged themselves out of their cozy hotel beds and assembled at White Sands National Monument before dawn the next morning. White and undulating as snow-covered hills, the endless gypsum sands resembled a tranquil wintry scene. Yet, on a 75 degree September day, it was hardly winter. She liked flying White Sands because, although it looked like a December mural, balloonists didn’t have to endure cold temperatures or risk getting the balloon envelope fabric wet. Too often, after flying in snow country, Rachel had to replace expensive balloon envelope panels. Mildew ate away at the fabric of any balloon that was packed away wet. In White Sands it was the best of both worlds. Gypsum sand never destroyed fabric.
The morning was particularly spectacular. A mystical thin layer of patchy fog hovered over the sand dunes. The balloon pilots and crews gathered in a flat parking lot for a flight briefing before the rally; spectators sat on the milky-white dunes overlooking the balloonists, waiting for the launch of 70 colorful balloons.
A short, round man wearing a tall chimney sweep’s hat introduced himself as the balloonmeister and called the briefing to order. Rachel knew most of the balloonmeisters; she had never seen this man before. Many of the pilots and crewmembers wore comical hats, a playful oddity that disguised the seriousness of their sport. Rachel always opted for her cherished ruby red baseball cap.
“Winds aloft at 6,000 feet are 250 at three knots.” The crowd ‘oohed’, causing the balloonmeister to stop and wait for the ensuing laughter to die down. “At 9,000 feet, winds are from 200 at 14 knots.” The crowd ‘aahed’ and the balloonmeister shook his head. “You’re a tough crowd,” he announced into the microphone. The crowd quiet at last, he continued. “There’s some patchy fog, but it’s clearing quickly. Visibility is five miles. Lifted index is plus six, so it won’t take much heat to make your balloons rise. Y’all should have a real nice flight today,” he predicted. “Oh and one other thing,” he added. “We’re due for a full eclipse today, so be real careful lookin’ up. Don’t want anyone going blind on us up there.”
An assistant handed the balloonmeister a small latex balloon filled with helium. He held it above his head and let it go. The crowd watched the little blue balloon slowly rise and float eastward until it was out of sight. Rachel was watching the balloon disappear when she felt someone looking at her. It was the balloonmeister. He grinned broadly, in an impish sort of way. As she turned to look away, he winked at her and mouthed, “Have a good trip.” Rachel looked around to see if he was looking at someone else, but other than her crew, everyone else had started back towards the launch sites. She turned back toward the balloonmeister, but he was gone.
Rachel’s six crewmembers gathered around her. “Well? What do you think?” one of the crewmembers asked.
“Like the man said, I think we’re going to have a great flight today. Liftoff should be fairly uneventful; there’s barely a breeze. If I fly close to the dunes where it’s around 4,200 feet, it’ll be slow going. If I take her up to 9,000 feet we’ll be cookin’, going east. Shall we see if we can make it as far as the main road this year?” Rachel asked.
During previous rallies at White Sands she had often tried to fly southeast as far as the main road, but never made it. Whoever got there first, or at all, received a grand prize picnic basket packed with champagne and goodies. She had been trying to win it for her crew several years in a row. With 14 knot winds at 9,000 feet she thought she might have a chance of making the road this year.
Rachel and her crew pulled the gondola basket and envelope bag holding the balloon out of the little trailer attached to the back of the jeep. While Rachel and two crewmembers turned the basket onto its side, other crewmembers untangled the lines attached to the mouth of the envelope. Rachel secured the burner onto the frame and her instruments to the inside of the wicker basket.
Once everything was hooked up, the crew pulled the bag, dragging the balloon envelope out in a straight line. Rachel checked the crown of the envelope, ensuring the top was properly attached. It was critical that when she flicked the burner that would heat the air during the flight, the top would operate properly, and contain the hot air in the balloon until she was ready to release the air and descend.
Crewmembers pulled out the sides of the red and yellow striped balloon envelope, expanding the fabric across the ground. Lauren set up the gas-propelled fan while two helpers held open the balloon mouth. For several minutes the fan blew cold air into the envelope, puffing out the balloon; meanwhile Rachel walked around the perimeter ensuring everyone was in proper place for the final, hot air inflation.
When the fan had adequately filled the balloon, Rachel lifted the burner, rested the frame on her knee, pointed the burner inside the balloon, and turned on a blast. Great flames shot forward straight into the balloon’s interior. The envelope quickly expanded. Rachel ceased burning and waited a few seconds for the hot air to fill the envelope. For several minutes she continued the on-and-off sequence, softly puffing hot air into the balloon until it fully expanded. Finally, she stepped back and began up righting the basket and burner, climbing over the side and settling herself inside the basket as it stood erect. She waved in the crewmembers and tied off the lines she would need to control the balloon during the flight.
“Weight on!” Rachel called and all the crewmembers leaned onto the edge of the basket to hold down the balloon while Rachel continued to send flames into the balloon, raising the interior temperature high enough to take off.
“Lauren, where’s my backpack and quilt?” Rachel asked her sister.
Lauren ran to the jeep and removed a backpack and a much used small quilt rolled into a log and tied with a ribbon. She jogged back to the balloon and handed them to Rachel.
“Can’t fly without my lucky quilt, can I?” Rachel smiled at her sister. Their mother, a longtime quilter, made it for Rachel when she earned her pilot’s license. Since that day Rachel had never flown without the colorful quilt that depicted a hot air balloon flying over the New Mexico landscape.
“Well, who’s first?” she called to her crew.
A young woman, a friend of one of her regular people climbed in.
“First time?” Rachel asked. The young woman nodded, looking a little nervous. “Don’t worry, one flight, and you’ll be hooked,” Rachel reassured her.
Rachel carefully watched the temperature gauge while looking over at a nearby launch director dressed in black and white striped clothing. His job was to signal her when it was safe to fly. The man gave her a thumbs-up, indicating there was no one above her and she was clear to take off. She called, “Hands off!” and gave the balloon a full blast of the burner. As the balloon began to slowly rise, Rachel’s first-time passenger screamed and leapt out of the basket. Without the additional ballast of the young woman’s weight, the balloon skyrocketed upward.
Rachel grabbed her radio as she looked overboard for the young woman. “Zia Ground, this is Zia Air. Come in.”
“Zia Air, this is Zia Ground,” Lauren’s voice crackled across the airwaves. “Sorry about that, Rachel.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yea,” Lauren responded. “She freaked out.”
“You can say that again,” Rachel retorted, clearly annoyed. “As soon as I stop climbing, I’ll come down and pick someone else up. But right now I’m going through that fog bank. Pack up the equipment; I should be able to land in five to ten minutes.”
After what seemed like an inordinate amount of time the balloon finally leveled off and Rachel looked down into the heavy fog that blanketed the dunes in every direction. It hadn’t looked that thick from the ground, she thought. The organizers would have cancelled the liftoff if they’d known the fog was so dense. The balloon was moving eastward at a fairly quick pace. She looked at the altimeter that measured how high she was flying; she had already reached 9,000 feet and as the balloonmeister forewarned, at this elevation the balloon was flying at a comfortable 14 knots.
“Very nice, very nice indeed,” Rachel said aloud, perusing the view.
In the distance, back towards the launch site, she could see a couple of other balloons lifting through the fog. This was the part she loved best about flying. She called it floating in suspended animation, as though a spirit was gently holding her in the cup of its hand. She felt an irresistible sense of tranquility and lightness, of being a part of the universe.
Lost in thought, Rachel barely noticed the sky begin to darken. The eclipse. Instinctively, she reached up and touched the cameo that was still hanging around her neck. She nervously rubbed the front with her thumb; the sky went black as night.
“Oh my God!” she yelped.
An instant later, light filled the sky as though someone turned a switch off, then on. Rachel leaned against the side of the basket to catch her breath and calm her racing heart. She had never experienced such a dramatic eclipse.
Her hands trembling, Rachel reached for the radio and pressed the button. “Zia Ground, this is Zia Air. Come In,” Rachel called into the speaker. Only static noise returned. “Zia Ground, come in. This is Zia Air.” Static again. Rachel stared at the radio. It had been working a few minutes before. “Well, we’ll switch out radios when I land,” she said aloud. “Guess I’d better get down and pick up a passenger.”
Rachel pulled on the vent line and watched the temperature gauge. Immediately the temperature in the envelope began to drop as the vent line allowed hot air to escape. She glanced at the variometer to see how many feet per minute she was dropping, but it remained steady. She checked the altimeter; it still registered at 9,000 feet. That’s impossible. She pulled on the vent line again. If she vented too much the balloon would start dropping like an elevator and she’d have to quickly heat up the air again to keep the balloon from falling too fast.
But the balloon did not drop, much less descend at all. Repeatedly she vented, watching the vent line open above her, presumably allowing hot air to escape. But still, the balloon wouldn’t budge. It stayed at 9,000 feet.
Again she tried to radio her crew and again she got no answer. She looked back toward the launch site; the balloons she had seen emerging through the fog right before the eclipse were now gone.
‘Weird’, Rachel thought, shaking her head. ‘Maybe it’s the lift index keeping me up.’ She shook her head. She had flown at a lifted index of plus six before and had been able to descend. It wasn’t the lift index and from what she could see, the balloon and the equipment were working perfectly.
A queasy, uncomfortable feeling involuntarily settled in her stomach when she realized she was powerless to change her course. All she could do was watch herself be swept above the fog bank. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
About Jeffree Wyn Itrich
Jeffree Wyn Itrich began telling stories as soon as she could speak and began putting them down on paper when she learned to write. A child with an active imagination (maybe even too active) she saw stories all around her. She was mesmerized by fairy tales because in truth they seemed quite real. For years she was sure that elves lived in her family’s garden and that if she paid just a bit more attention that she would see fairies flitting around in the starlight.
One day her mother, Joyce Sapp, showed her a blank book given to her by her parents when she was a young girl. Young Joyce wrote poetry and stories that inspired her daughter. Jeffree loved her mother’s book and knew that she wanted, no, needed to write down her stories in a book too. She was 10 or 11 when her mother gave her the first of many blank books. She has been writing ever since.
In the late 1980s Jeffree studied journalism at UC Berkeley and began writing articles on every topic from food to people profiles to feature stories. Being the inquisitive type she found wonder in how people lived their lives, what they did to make life sparkle, to make it worth living. In 1987 North Point Press published her non-fiction book, The Art of Accompaniment, which was later reprinted by Border Books, retitled Spice It Up. Non-fiction writing fulfilled one part of her but deep inside, in that place where the heart rules, she knew she had her own fiction stories to tell. She sensed that she wasn’t living her life to its fullest, for its intended purpose, if she didn’t write and publish the tales. It wasn’t until she participated in a balloon rally in southeastern New Mexico that the story of Destiny at Oak Valley came to fruition. Some stories simply cry out to be told; this is one of them.
My blog: http://www.jeffreewyn.com/blog/
My FB page: http://www.facebook.com/JeffreeWyn
Where you can buy my book:
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_15?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=destiny+at+oak+valley&sprefix=Destiny+at+Oak+%2Caps%2C150 (On Amazon readers have a choice of buying it as an ebook or in print.)
Barnes & Noble Nook Store: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Destiny-at-Oak-Valley?keyword=Destiny+at+Oak+Valley&store=ebook
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