A Setting Speaks


Nestled up against the rolling foothills bordering the Salmon River, the town of Stanley, Idaho has an expansive view of the Sawtooth Range. This time of year the town has already put on its down jacket and hunkered down for the winter that will soon be bullying its way into the basin trailing harsh winds and snow. But this week, it’s a lovely place to be, free of tourists, dressed in the warm golds and reds of autumn. With a populace numbering far less than 100, it’s a hardy community that’s already stacked in the firewood under wide roof eaves. Shops are closed or only open for limited hours of business. The change of season is caught in the crisp air scented by sweet leaf mold from trees quickly discarding their summer clothes like the residents.

img_3903Highways bringing summer visitors from either Sun Valley to the south or Boise from the southwest converge here, the road bending sharply changes one’s perspective of the landscape from rolling ranch land to majestic mountain peaks. But there is no mistaking this for a hospitable place to settle year round. In the 1820s hardy Hudson Bay fur trappers learned it and were quick to leave when the beaver population did not yield the bounty they’d hoped for. Miners stayed only as long as the veins produced ore. But other souls have found a home here, settling in for the long winter months with ready acceptance, fair trade for the beauty that greets them each day in the form of snow-capped peaks and quiet isolation.

img_3906As a writer, this place speaks to me. Place your romantic fiction here, it whispers, but do not neglect the harsh realities of such a setting. Use it as a character, one that inspires and directs the plot. Let your characters be shaped by this land and this climate that changes so sharply with the seasons, transforming the residents as dramatically as the landscape. Allow your characters to learn from the seasons, the rhythms of life that bring comfort in their consistency. Transport your readers here to this place so removed from the modern pace of their lives.

I answer, I will do my best.

Nature lives in chapters too. We call them seasons.


Meet Sam

So returning to Idaho allows me to slip back into my alter-ego of Samantha. She loves most things Western, with the possible exception of some Country Western music. Having been raised in the era of TV westerns, this is a comfortable persona to slip into.  My heroes talked softly, hated injustice, and always, always took the high ground whether in a shoot out or in making the choice to the right thing. I think I can safely say that I read every Louis L’amour western, some twice. For many of us, Louis was a man who defined the cowboy hero. That might be due to the fact that so many of his books were made into movies and television shows.

But in my library, Shane would probably head the list of my all-time favorite books set in the nineteenth century West. The gunslinger was tough, but he could be gentled by a soft spoken woman. He’d deny what he most desired to do in favor of what was best for others. I’d have to put this book into the genre of Romantic Western, though I think few book stores would choose to do so. So in an era of fading interest in the Western genre, I slipped my book into the romance category. But one must be forewarned, that the story is heavier on the action than on the romance. You can blame Louis for that.

So, in honor of our return to Idaho for this short season, I’ve made Sam’s book, Kat’s Law, available on Amazon Kindle for a Countdown Deal starting today at $.99. This is the first time it’s been discounted. The Countdown goes through Sunday. I hope you’ll take advantage of the price and curl up on the sofa with your favorite jeans on and a cup of well-creamed coffee in hand. Kat’s a kick and Jonathan’s one any girl would find worth waiting for.



Idaho Muse

Cherry Creek in Fall Attire

Cherry Creek in Fall Attire


After spending the last two months in the forested Pacific Northwest, it feels exceptionally fine to be back in Idaho under this expansive sky I’ve come to love. From the western border of Oregon all across the mountain passes and later spanning the broad rolling plains of central Idaho, the past becomes almost palpable. The imagination seems to be sparked by ghostly voices of earlier travelers.

Each time I make the passage, I am struck with the contrast of traveling at 70 and 80 miles an hour against the struggles of those determined souls who were grateful for a few miles travel in a single day. This especially presses in upon me as we pass along the Snake River, starting with Three Island Crossing. Such a short time ago, the collective breath of an entire wagon train would have been held as each wagon made its way across the fast-moving, sometimes unpredictable Snake. For us, it is passed in a mere eight seconds.

Then there is Massacre Rock and Messenger Rock nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the route except for a few ignoble road signs. Once again, fear would have gripped the travelers as they approached the narrow passage between two rocks that now have been blasted away for the freeway. Not knowing if vengeance-bent natives were waiting for them on the other side, they made their way through, one wagon at a time. We pass through without a thought in two seconds.

Today we walked along a familiar trail that follows Cherry Creek. We’ve missed the fall color, leaves scattered across the path now by winds notorious to this area. But it’s still beautiful. Leaves shush beneath the feet as birds who will brave the winter or wait for a later migration note our passage casually with soft sounds from the bare branches.

Cherry Springs Nature Area is a riparian habitat that winds along a gentle stream carved between a narrow canyon covered in brush. Shade provided by a variety of trees supports an even greater variety of wildlife, including beavers, voles and even weasels. The signs warn us that this is the time of year to be alert to Moose during the rutting season of late September and October. We missed sighting them all. But the thrill of that possibility added an element of anticipation.

Settings have always provided the chief inspiration for my writing. California’s rugged coastline north of San Francisco and Idaho’s Sawtooth Range pulled forth characters from my imagination that gave life to stories I had to write.

There are places that speak clearly to the soul of man. Idaho sings to me.

Available on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats.


Misha-Alexandrov-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

The Appeal of Historical Fiction for author Mike Torreano

M.K. Tod hosts Mike Torreano, a writer of historical fiction. This post looks at the genre’s classic place in literature.

A Writer of History

author Mike TorreanoMike Torreano is a relatively new author with two novels in the works. Like many others, he trolled the halls and workshops at this June’s Historical Novel Society conference and we chatted about our writing and the challenges of breaking into the market. Recently, I asked Mike to add his thoughts to the Inside Historical Fiction discussion.

What makes HF unforgettable/irresistible?

For authors, the irresistible part is easy. For whatever reason, history resonates with us. Perhaps it was a childhood experience where we were first exposed to signature events, or a family history which opened up a peek at the past.

For me, it was a fifth grade teacher who made us read a book a week and make a written report. We never knew who she was going to call on to give the report, so we had to be ready. I read every Zane Gray novel I could get my…

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Growing a Contented Heart

So there it is, the true title of this blog. I’m well-acquainted with loss of short-term memory. Oh yes, did I say ‘well acquainted’? I’m also realizing I’m experiencing short-term vision loss. I refer to the spiritual type of vision. This blog was started a few years ago with the express vision of growing my own contented heart and helping others do likewise. Well, I lost the vision, or misplaced it perhaps.

The concept of growing something involves work, doesn’t it? It’s something that involves effort, discipline, practice. Sadly, I’ve never been very disciplined. But if I really want that garden of contentment to grow, I’ve a need to restore my vision.  That will take, uck! discipline.

Gardens are not woodlands with a natural beauty, where weeds look quite at home amidst the ferns and grasses. Gardens need tending. The weeds need to go or they choke out the flowers. That takes daily effort. In my garden the enemy weed begins with a negative thought, a demoralizing attack from within. You aren’t smart enough, young enough, old enough, good enough, pretty enough. You aren’t. So where does that leave you? Defeated? Yep! That’s bad water for the roots! That’s putting a bag over the seedling you are attempting to help grow, shutting out the light source.

The goal is not to feel good about myself.  This isn’t a self-improvement class. I must confess that when my vision is fuzzy, I forget and think that is the goal. I want so desperately to approve of myself. But that is when I’m suffering from spiritual amnesia. If I fail to exercise my faith and allow the negative voice to shout down the voice of truth, that poor heart isn’t going to grow in contentment.

Practically, how does one shout down the voices of negativity? I’m disciplining myself to count my blessings. When I actually start to name them, it’s astounding how many there are. Part of that discipline means I don’t compare my blessings to those given to others. I work at tearing down false expectations. I choose to believe in His love and that He has given me just what I need for today. Elyse Fitzpatrick has written it this way in her book Comforts From Romans, “Rest…expect his blessing. Believe, and when you don’t, believe again.”

So my new exercise for the second half of 2016 is to shout the truth louder than the lie. The truth is simple and beautiful. God accepts me where I am. He approves of me even when I don’t. My choices may be flawed. My thoughts may be poison to that garden. My hope may be misplaced. But He waters the garden even when I neglect it. He pours nourishment into the soil when I forget to look to Him for my hope. Planting in such a soil will produce a healthy, contented heart.

This isn’t just about thinking positively to produce a good outcome. That can be simply an act of self-deception. But if I have trusted in the One who has called me out of darkness into light, I have a real reason for hope and true contentment. I will cry out as the father in Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

So this may not be a stunning post, but it’s a course adjustment. We need those frequently.

Next up will be a cover reveal for my recently released historical fiction under a pen name for a different audience than the Distant Shores of Home series.  Speaking of Distant Shores, it has its own website now. You can find it here:  https://distantshoresofhome.com

If you like it please leave a “like” or comment please.


The Divine Romance

In the creation of fiction, writers should and usually do spend much time selecting names for their characters. Names convey information. The author wants readers to know  his characters, how they think, how they respond, how they view their world. Ultimately, he wants the reader to love them. That’s easier in fiction than in real life.

In fiction, the writer can reveal what those characters are thinking. He can show you how they respond and go on to tell you why. He can show you their worldview as they experience trials. He can create empathy in the reader with prose that is crafted for that very purpose. The writer’s job is to help the reader know the character as well as he does.

To truly know God is to love him. But knowing him goes beyond knowledge of him. Knowing him is a personal experience. That knowing has to first be initiated by a gift of grace. “We love because He first loved us.”

But as the author of the greatest book in human history, he shows us how he responds, how he views our life and our dire position in a fallen world. He leads us every step of the way to allow us to know him and love him. One of those means of revealing his character is through the names he uses for himself.

El Shaddai                            The All-Sufficient One

El Elyon                                  The God Most High

El Olam                                  The  Everlasting God

Adonai                                    Lord, Master

Jehovah-nissi                       The Lord My Banner

Yahweh                                    Lord (Jehovah)

Jehovah-jireh                        The Lord Will Provide

Elohim                                      The Creator

Jehovah-raah                        The Lord My Shepherd

Qanna                                       Jealous

Jehovh-rapha                        The Lord Who Heals

Jehovah-shalom                   The Lord is Peace

Jehovah-shammah              The Lord is There

El Roi                                           The God Who Sees

Jehovah-sabaoth                   The Lord of Hosts

Jehovah-tsidkenu                  The Lord Our Righteousness

Jehovah-mekoddishkern    The Lord Who Sanctifies You

Admittedly, some of these names are preferable to others. While it is comforting to think of God as the Good Shepherd, it could be disconcerting to also remember that He is the God who sees. But in a different situation, when an injustice has been committed against us, the knowledge that God has seen it provides comfort. So He is the totality of his names. Complex and mysterious, but fully accessible, he invites us into this divine romance.

Yaweh has come down that we might know him and love him. He has further revealed his love in the name Emmanuel, God With Us. A greater love has never been known.

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.   NLT Psalm 9:10

Happy Valentine’s Day





Misha Alexandrov – Chapter Two

In a previous post, I spoke of using setting as a character. That was what prompted me to include the previous chapter in Misha Alexandrov. But as a novel for middle grade readers, the following chapter might have been a better beginning.

Chapter 2

“We cross that, yes?” Dimitri pulled at his grizzled beard. A skeptical eyebrow disappeared beneath his fur cap.

The fort construction foreman, Stepan Tarasov, pulled up the reins and grinned mirthlessly at Dimitri who sat beside him. “We’ve no other way to get to the fort. The Slavianka River shows her temper this time of year, but the Miwok Indians know her moods well, and the Aleuts are skilled with the baidarka. You can either trust their skill, trust God for deliverance to the other side, or both. Either way, the odds are in your favor, I think.”

“And the horses? How do the horses cross? Surely they don’t swim?” Dimitri asked.

“No, not this time of year. A wagon and a sturdy pair of mules are waiting on the other side. Only men are foolish enough to cross the river,” Tarasov answered with a snort.

Dimitri turned to Misha, who had scrambled to perch on the box behind them. “Well, we’ve survived a sea crossing from Unalaska. I suppose one river shouldn’t stop us from reaching our destination, eh, my young friend?”

Misha stared ahead at the flooded torrent gorged with floating debris. Giant logs tumbled in their race to the sea. The boy gulped at the prospect of crossing in the small boats pulled up on the shore. He offered Dimitri a wan smile in a feeble attempt to hide his fear.

After spending the night at Port Rumianstev, Foreman Tarasov had collected Dimitri and Misha for the overland trip to the fort. He’d made it clear from the beginning that he did not approve of the boy’s presence. He had no skills and no contract with the Russian American Company, and therefore no business with the colony. Had his father not died and instead been with him as they’d planned, the boy’s presence would not have been the problem it now posed. But Tarasov lacked the authority to send him back on the ship at least, not yet.

Four men stood on the shore, two Misha recognized to be Aleut, like his mother. The third man stood taller with deep-set eyes that gave him a fierce expression. Tarasov told Dimitri that he was a Miwok Indian from Bodega.

The imposing man smiled and spoke in heavily accented Russian, “You haven’t ridden a bucking horse, have you?”

Misha had seen no horses until today and would not have known a bucking one from a docile one. He shook his head.

“After today, you might say you have.” The man laughed, and his face softened.

A few items were loaded into the middle seat of the baidarka that Tarasov would pilot. Dimitri stepped up to the water’s edge and slowly eased himself into the forward compartment. Into the middle seat of the second baidarka, the two Aleuts loaded Dimitri’s trunk.

The Miwok pulled the smaller boat into the shallow waters and motioned to Misha to come closer. Misha quickly pulled on his parka to free his hands and tried unsuccessfully to lift his leg into the rocking baidarka, losing his footing on the slippery rocks. The Miwok grabbed his arm and pulled him upright before the cold waters drenched him.

Misha glanced over at Tarasov, whose eyes were narrowed watching his clumsy attempts. Misha knew he was small for his age and appeared weak in the man’s eyes. He mustn’t let the man think he was too small to be of use to him.

“Here!” Before Misha could protest and try again, the Indian lifted Misha like a sack of potatoes and lowered him into the boat’s narrow opening. He then pushed the baidarka forward and slid into the back compartment. Pulling away from the shore with strong strokes, Misha’s boat easily caught up to the other pair. The men strained against the rushing current, aiming for the landing visible on the opposite bank. With each stroke of the paddle, Misha heard their labored breath come in grunts.

Misha gripped the baidarka’s sides, his eyes wide as he watched the oarsmen fight against the pull of the sea. At this crossing, so near the ocean, the tide could also be a factor in the current. More than just a matter of a pulling from one side of the river to the other, this trip required constant maneuvering to avoid one obstacle after another. Everything from tangled twigs to full-size trees that had fallen close to the river’s shore through the winter months careened wildly to the sea.

The boy watched Dimitri’s pilot dodge a mass of limbs that were trapped in their own whirlpool. The Miwok skillfully steered the craft upstream away from the snag. As the mass passed harmlessly to the side, Misha caught sight of movement in the branches of a small floating tree – a tiny, brown bundle of wet fur. A squirrel stared back at Misha with defiant eyes and scolded him as if all this was somehow his fault.

Another log suddenly loomed into view and once more the Miwok maneuvered the craft upstream, steering away from the tree’s path. The Indian grunted with the effort and the little boat tipped sharply. Misha grabbed the edge, and his eyes grew even wider.

The boatman corrected his course and shifted his balance. A sudden lifting of the bow, and then the boat lurched sideways as a log, wider in diameter than three grown men, brushed the side. Again the Indian corrected their course, but not before a second log hit them broadside with such force that Misha’s hands tore free of the side. The small boat tilted wildly. Misha grabbed for something but found only air, and then only water.

He kicked his legs, attempting to push himself back to the surface, but broke above the water just as a piece of debris smacked into his head, plunging him beneath the surface again. He struggled once more, frantic for air, and emerged several feet farther away. In a desperate attempt to stay afloat, he thrashed his arms.

At one point, Misha heard Dimitri shout to him. Because of the number of times he had been spun by the waters, he strained to orient himself, uncertain of the opposite bank. He tried to locate the other boats, but logs and his own hair plastered to his face obstructed a clear view. Once more he heard a distant shout.

His parka hung heavy now and made lifting his arms difficult. His boots pulled like anchors on his legs. He kicked wildly and tugged his arm free of one sleeve, but sank again. The shock of the cold further hindered his movements.

Over and over he struggled, pushing his nose above the water, but his other arm remained trapped in the water-logged jacket. He took in a lungful of air and dived to wrestle with the sleeve that bound him. He tore at it with his unencumbered hand until at last his tangled arm pulled free. His head surfaced again, his lungs burning, but the parka was gone.

With awkward strokes, he began to paddle toward the shore when something grabbed his leg. He kicked frantically, but his foot had caught in the branches of the log snag. He twisted his body, grabbing for another branch, and managed to pull himself partially out of the water onto a larger limb. Clinging to the swiftly moving tree, he remembered the poor, drenched creature he’d seen before, who had done exactly this. Like the hapless squirrel, he was now at the mercy of the raging current.

Misha-Alexandrov-800 Cover reveal and Promotional


 Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Now also available on Nook


The Power of Positive Words

I’ve been thinking a lot about encouragement and those who give it so timely and with such natural grace. While texting with two friends last night, I saw that timeliness exhibited in my friend. Our mutual friend was expressing her concerns about navigating an airport pickup in an unfamiliar city. My instant response was to commiserate with her situation. “Scary” was my reply.

The quieter friend in the string said, “You can do it!” She then proceeded to give simple suggestions to help our friend find her way. It hit me between the eyes – the difference. You can do it! Let me help you. Isn’t that it? One response still has an element of self. Oooo, I’d be scared too. The other is genuinely empathetic and as a result, helpful.

My first novel was born out of a desire to encourage my son who had made a surprising decision to enlist in the Marine Corp while still in college. I was disappointed that he would not complete his studies first, but I wanted him to know without doubt that I still loved and supported him. My fictional character, Misha, struggled with acceptance and issues of identity. He ultimately finds both, but not after some false starts and travels down some circuitous paths.

I hope my writing will be a source of encouragement. Time will tell. Need to check the motivations from time-to-time. I think most of us want to be encouragers. But we often miss the mark in our attempts. Reminds me of the definition of humility – Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, but not thinking of yourself at all.  That’s a real challenge. I don’t think it’s a change we can make in our own goodness or strength. It’s a Spirit thing.

There is a community of encouraging folks online at a website I’ve recently discovered – http://www.TheSeeds4Life.com Go check it out! You’ll even find an article by this blogger.

Thanks to Matt and all those who see the beauty of encouragement.


Setting As Character

From the moment I first saw the chapel of Fort Ross when rounding the bend of the foggy Hwy 101, it became a she. Emerging from the fog so unexpectedly, she took on personality, mysterious and yet benevolent. She had a story to tell, and I had to listen. That was four years ago, nearly five.

As the protagonist, Misha Alexandrov, developed in my imagination, the fortress continued to be a significant presence. Because he was an orphan, it seemed that the fortress was taking him into her care, providing more than shelter, but also identity. The first novel delves into that need in Misha to find a place to belong. Neither his Russian father or Aleut mother are there when we meet the young Misha. He has traveled from Archangel to Bodega Bay in the company of his father’s friend, Dimitri.

So when I was advised to cut the first chapter, I was confused and conflicted. It was there that this maternal relationship is revealed. For many revisions, it remained in my deleted scenes folder. When I made the decision to self-publish, I pulled it out again. Perhaps it didn’t have the faster pace beginning that the second chapter provided, but I was satisfied.

What books have you read that enlist the setting as a character? I can think of a few. I’d like to hear yours.

I offer Chapter One to you here. Comments are, as always, welcome.


Ross Colony, Alta California, 1827Misha-Alexandrov-800 Cover reveal and Promotional

Misha Alexandrov pushed himself through a narrow space between two burly men, bursting through to the ship’s railing in time to catch the old crewman pointing just beyond the bow. The man shouted again, “There she is, beyond the point! See the top of her southern guard tower? There, on the peninsula ahead!”

Men dressed in heavy parkas leaned against the ship’s railing peering ahead to where the grizzled sailor’s eyes were focused. Misha, who didn’t look his ten years, stood his ground, defending his small space at the rail. He braced himself as the ship heaved its bulk over yet another wave, then lifted his hand, shielding his eyes against the sun’s morning rays.

The fog which had blanketed the coast since first light had lifted, leaving behind only drifting wisps. At last, the rocky shore and sandstone cliffs revealed themselves to the crew and passengers of the Russian brigantine ship, Surorov. Weeks of sailing rough seas in the waters of the north Pacific made the fortress an especially welcome sight.

Now the boy saw the stout wooden walls of the stockade along with its guard towers. Ross Fortress sat serenely on the peninsula just above a small, secluded cove flanked by deep ravines on either side. On the beach, a partially constructed ship balanced on giant logs.

The Surorov floated close enough for the boy to recognize men on the shore working around a half-dozen small boats, the ones the Russians called baidarkas, the same Aleut kayaks that fished the waters of Archangel. The men near these boats waved at the passengers. Misha, along with several others at the rail, waved back.

“Look, Misha, the men must be going seal hunting! One of them already put his baidarka into the sea.” Dimitri Makarova gestured just beyond the bow of the ship. Misha looked up into the man’s whiskered face, a man scarcely more than a stranger, but one on whom he had suddenly become completely dependent. The boy turned his attention once more to the shore, where one of the small crafts was just launching into the breakers.

Another passenger spoke from behind them, “They don’t hunt so much now. The Aleuts were too good at their jobs, so not many seals remain. Now the hunters become farmers. I’ve heard that many grumble because of this, but stomachs must be filled with something other than fish.”

Dimitri nodded. “Ah! I’ve heard the colony grows wheat here! I’d surely welcome even a crust of bread.”

Misha watched Dimitri’s eyes close at the memory, just as his father’s had when he’d spoken of his longing for bread. What type of food could be more delicious than sea lion or salmon? He peered eagerly again at the shore, while his stomach made a curious murmur.

Coming into view were smaller buildings huddled close to the fortress like chicks near their mother hen. This village reminded Misha of the picture books from his Russian homeland, stories his father had read to him. Here were those same quaint isbas, cottages, painted blue. A short distance from the fortress stood a stocky windmill, its arms turning gently, driven by the coastal winds.

Despite the forbidding stockade walls, the open gates of the fortress seemed to extend welcoming arms to the sea. Misha smiled for the first time in many, long, cold months, and something awakened within him that had vanished with their sudden departure from Archangel, Alaska.

Misha looked up again at Dimitri’s naturally serious face. This man, though his father’s oldest friend and a good and decent man, was not accustomed to children. Misha knew he was uncomfortable in this sudden role thrust upon him as his guardian. Dimitri was honoring his father’s dying wish, but it had been awkward for both of them.

A lonely cold clutched at the boy’s heart, banishing his flush of excitement. He hugged himself against the brisk sea breeze, his fingers stroking the familiar soft sealskin of his parka. A fleeting image of his mother passed behind his closed eyelids. This touch of her last gift to him, one she’d spent a year crafting, braced his courage.

“Dimitri?” he asked, his gaze now upon the bluffs and gentle hills rising just beyond the fort.

“Yes?” Dimitri smiled down at the boy, a smile that seemed tight at the edges, as if his face were unaccustomed to the expression.

“Why isn’t the ship stopping? She’s sailing away from the shore, not closer?”

“The ship will take us to Port Rumianstev in Bodega Bay where the ship’s cargo can be more easily unloaded. A sailor said we’ll return north to the fort by land. I think we don’t have more than a few hours before we arrive at the port,” Dimitri answered.

“I see.”

Misha gripped the rail and peered back at the shore. Slicing easily through the gentle waves, the ship sent cold spray over the deck, while the golden sun reached down, warming the young boy’s face and heart. Misha laughed and licked sticky salt from his lips. With renewed hope for finding a place to once more belong, he watched the colony on the bluff grow smaller as the ship sailed south to Bodega Bay. Ross Fortress, resting high on the bluff, returned the boy’s gaze and beckoned.