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Found_The Folk Trilogy Series 505x825In Found, Book 3 in the Folk series, the hero and heroine take refuge in a Rocky Mountain cabin during a magically nasty blizzard. But this isn’t just any cabin: it’s a Tenth Mountain Division Hut. I chose their lodging on purpose because, frankly, I think the Tenth Mountain huts are neat.

The Tenth Mountain Division has a definite place in Colorado’s heart. The unit was formed just prior to World War II when the head of the US Ski Patrol argued that the US Army needed special capabilities for fighting in mountain terrain. The members of the division had to apply for entry and they had to demonstrate athletic ability and some familiarity with mountain conditions. When it came time to train for mountain warfare, the army chose one of the toughest terrains in the US—a remote valley outside Leadville, Colorado. Camp Hale had an elevation of 9200 feet and the recruits endured some punishing conditions, particularly in the winter. Fortunately, the training paid off when the division played a critical role in alpine battles.

But the Tenth Mountain Division played an equally critical role in Colorado history. Members of the division who trained in the Colorado mountains came back after the war to found the modern Colorado ski industry. Tenth Mountain veterans founded the Aspen ski resort, and others played major roles in resorts at Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs. They also modernized the Colorado Ski Patrol and helped popularize skiing as a sport.

So what are these Tenth Mountain Huts? They’re a system of thirty-four backcountry huts for hikers, Nordic skiers, and snowshoers that can only be reached on foot. It’s possible to hike from hut to hut for a multi-night trek, assuming you’re an experienced backpacker—it’s not for beginning hikers. The area where the huts are located is close to the original location of Camp Hale, and the first hut was built by Tenth Mountain veterans.

Bertie and Eva, the hero and heroine of Found, regard the hut as a welcome shelter, and I made things a little more comfortable for them. For example, they’re able to drive to the hut, or at least close to it, but in reality they’d have to hike in (which would be hard for Bertie since he’s been poisoned). I also gave them running water and electricity, which the huts don’t have. A friend drives up with canned food and coffee, but to get to a real hut you have to pack everything in, which usually means no cans. I was caught between the needs of the story and the facts, and the needs of the story won. My apologies to fact-checkers everywhere!

You can reserve Tenth Mountain Huts through their website, assuming you feel like a hike, but the huts are very popular so you may not get the dates you want or you may have to share a hut with other hikers (the bedrooms are dormitory style). Still, if you’re an outdoors type, you’ll get to enjoy some spectacular scenery in a unique location. And even though I’ll probably never make the hike to the huts, I still enjoy hearing about them. Like I said, I think they’re neat.

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Going Back

Meg at Hondo's

Visiting Hondo’s in April

It’s not much of a secret that Konigsburg, Texas, the setting for my Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing, is loosely based on Fredericksburg, Texas, a premier vacation site in the Texas Hill Country. I find it a lot easier to write about places I know, mostly Texas and Colorado since those are the places where I’ve lived the longest. My hubs and I visit Fredericksburg once or twice a year since we go to Texas regularly to visit our kids and Fredericksburg happens to be in the heart of Texas wine country.

We were there again just last month and decided to have dinner at a restaurant I actually used in the books. I based the Faro, a former dive now turned into a first-class restaurant and music venue (see Brand New Me, Don’t Forget Me, Fearless Love, and Hungry Heart), on Hondo’s in Fredericksburg. We used to eat there before it was Hondo’s, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called then. All I really remember were the many stuffed animals on the walls and the terrific southwestern Cobb salad that used to be on the menu.

Well, like they say, you can’t go home again. Hondo’s is now mostly a bar and music venue. Their menu is largely barbeque and burgers. No more Cobb salad. And the inside is radically different—the buffalo head with earrings is no longer a fixture.

More seriously, I was amazed at how much smaller the place was in reality than it was in my memory. When I changed Hondo’s to the Faro, I fleshed it out with pool tables, a bar, a beer garden and lots of space for dining. Hondo’s does in fact have a beer garden, but it’s not the spacious place I remembered. In fact, I’m beginning to think I may have conflated the outdoor spaces at Floore’s General Store and Gruene Hall with the relatively modest outdoor area at Hondo’s.

So my visit was a disappointment, but I’m not sure it should have been. The Faro, after all, is my very own creation. Yes, I thought of Hondo’s when I was writing it, but obviously I thought of a lot of other places too. I wanted a space that would fulfill certain requirements—a bar, a restaurant, a music space, a place where lovers could meet unexpectedly. The Faro was and is all of those things. Hondo’s probably is too, but it doesn’t match the place I created in my mind.

I’d argue that authors shouldn’t be held to closely to account for their created spaces.

If I were trying to describe Buckingham Palace, then I could be brought up on charges of misrepresentation (and that may well be another reason why I’ll never do historical novels). But the Faro is mine—I’m sole owner and proprietor. Thus I’m not really answerable to anybody but my characters. And they seem to like it fine. As Janie Dupree Toleffson remarks in Brand New Me, “I can’t believe what Tom Ames has done with this place. It’s really nice.”

Tom Ames and me, Janie. Tom Ames and me.

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Hungry HeartHungry Heart, my eighth book set in Konigsburg, Texas, will be released by Samhain Publishing on March 25. There are some familiar characters along with some new faces, and a whole lot of information about barbecue.

Here’s the blurb:

Hungry Heart

Peace, love, and barbecue—with a big order of sexy on the side.

Konigsburg, Texas, Book 8

Sous chef Darcy Cunningham is less than entranced with small-town Konigsburg’s obsession with barbecue. But her future career as a chef de cuisine requires expanding her culinary horizons, so she talks the Barbecue King, a.k.a. Harris Temple, into taking her on as his apprentice.

However, learning Harris’s professional secrets wasn’t supposed to include falling for his spicy blend of smoky sexiness and laid-back charm.

Chico Burnside specializes in flying under Konigsburg’s small-town radar, but lately life has been going a little too smoothly, even for him. Hoping to shake things up a bit, he talks Harris into teaming up for Konigsburg’s first barbecue cook-off. But once shy scientist Andy Wells catches his eye, Chico’s got more on his mind than brisket. Like enticing her out of her shell to show her just how tenderly a big guy can love.

As the competition ignites, so does the romance. Until a natural disaster threatens to derail Konigsburg’s dream team before the grills even get good and warmed up.

Warning: Contains hot sauce, hot sex, and a whole lot of smokin’ action.

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Happy Medium Is Here

Happy Medium“You know it is a good book when you do not want it to end and that is what it was for me.” — Gigi Staub

“Happy Medium was a terrific conclusion to the Medium Trilogy, although I’m very sorry that it’s the conclusion.” — Book Pushers

“A sexy builder, a smart, sensitive researcher and a naughty ghost. Terrific fun!” — CayoCosta

Happy Medium, the third book in my Ramos Family Trilogy, is now available at the usual outlets. All three of the Ramos Family books feature reluctant mediums, siblings who were previously unaware of the family legacy of communication with the dead. The hero in Happy Medium is Ray, the youngest sibling who specializes in home renovation. That’s a good job to have in San Antonio’s King William District with its historic houses. But the house Ray is working with this time has all kinds of problems, including a very nasty ghost. Here’s the blurb:

Love is good for the soul… unless it’s one that you’re trying to exorcise.

Ray Ramos has a problem–the King William District mansion he and his business partner purchased for a fast renovation needs more work than expected. Ray could use a quick infusion of cash. Enter Emma Shea, assistant to Gabrielle DeVere, the star of American Medium. Gabrielle is looking for San Antonio houses to use for her televised séances, and Ray’s fixer upper seems to fit.

When Gabrielle does a sample séance, Ray and Emma become the target of a touchy ghost with no respect for boundaries. After Ray learns his family has a special affinity for ghosts, the two decide to investigate the haunted house. It doesn’t hurt that Emma is immediately attracted to the laconic Ray or that Ray is intrigued by the buttoned-down beauty who seems determined to hide her considerable assets behind sober business suits. But can the two of them fight off a vengeful succubus bound to the house while getting a lot closer than either of them planned?

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

The other two books in the series are Medium Well and Medium Rare. For those who’d like to catch up, here’s a little information about both of them.

Medium WellMedium Well

Love At Second Sight

Real estate agent Danny Ramos has always had a knack for selling homes, but when his boss saddles him with a neglected carriage house, Danny discovers that his abilities are more than simple intuition…

On his first visit to the house, Danny is confronted with visions of a violent murder. His assistant, Biddy Gunter, doesn’t seem affected, and Danny starts to think he’s going crazy—until he gets a visit from his mother, who suggests that Danny’s uncanny talent to sell old houses may stem from his family inheritance: psychic empathy.

When Biddy reveals to Danny her own strange dream about the carriage house ghosts, they team up to investigate and discover both the house’s dark history and their own unexpected attraction. But as the hauntings turn from unsettling to downright dangerous, Danny and Biddy need to figure out how to rid the house of its ghostly inhabitants, before their budding romance meets an untimely end…

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

Medium RareMedium Rare

There are no skeletons in her closet…only ghosts

Rose Ramos was a reference librarian, until she inherited her grandmother’s house—and the family talent for connecting with the other side…

Moving into the lovely Victorian in San Antonio’s King William District is a dream come true for Rose—and also a nightmare. That’s the only explanation she has for the man hovering above her bed. But Skag is a ghost who’s been part of Rose’s family for generations. And now he’s all hers.

When Evan Delwin, a reporter out to debunk the city’s newest celebrity, posts an ad looking for a research assistant to investigate a famous medium making his home in San Antonio, Skag suggests that Rose apply for the job. Delving into the dark side has its own dangers for Rose—including trying to resist Delwin’s manly charms. But as the investigation draws them closer together, the deadly currents surrounding the medium threaten to destroy them all…

Amazon | Barnes and Noble

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Christmas Greetings!

Happy Holidays To All

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booksEloisa James recently quoted the final lines of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree on Facebook. She described it as “a book that needs no introduction.” She’s probably right—I’m sure the majority of people who saw those lines recognized them immediately. I’ve heard The Giving Tree quoted in sermons. I’ve seen adults tear up as they reach they end. I’ve seen adults tear up as they refer to the end. Everybody loves The Giving Tree.

Everybody but me.

If you’ve never heard of the book, you may need a quick recap. The Giving Tree is a children’s picture book about the relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree gives the boy everything she can (and yes, it’s a she—Silverstein uses that pronoun specifically). When he’s a child, the boy swings from her branches, rests in her shade, and eats her apples. But as the boy grows older, his demands grow too. When he needs money, he sells her apples (at her suggestion). When he needs a house, he takes her branches to build it. When he needs a boat, he takes her trunk to make it. The tree is perfectly okay with all of this, of course. In fact, she suggests most of it herself. But the boy/man is never entirely satisfied. At the end of the book, he returns, a shriveled old man, and sits down to rest, leaning on the stump that’s all that’s left of the tree. And the final words of the book? “And the tree was happy.”

There are a lot of interpretations of this book, some of them religious (the tree is God) or environmentalist (the tree is Mother Nature). But the interpretation I’ve seen most frequently is that the tree and the boy represent parent and child. More specifically the tree is Mom, constantly giving whatever she has to her children until there’s basically nothing left. But she’s happy because, as Mom, that’s what she’s supposed to do.

And that, my friends, is why I find this book sort of disturbing. Because, no, that’s not what Mom is supposed to do. Mom or Dad either one. What Mom and Dad are really supposed to do is raise a kid who’s not a selfish little snot. Moreover, there’s something troubling about a book that hypothesizes the parent/child relationship in a way that makes the child a kind of emotional vampire and the parents a pair of chumps. There is nothing particularly noble about parents as enablers.

As a point of contrast, consider E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, another book in which the two protagonists (Charlotte and Wilbur) have a parent/child relationship. Charlotte also gives herself to Wilbur, devoting herself to keeping him alive. But in the end, when Charlotte dies, it isn’t because Wilbur has used her up. It’s because Charlotte has reached the end of her life cycle. And she doesn’t leave behind a selfish little pig (literally) who’s learned nothing. She leaves behind a pig who’s now able to stand on his own four feet. I feel annoyed with myself if I tear up over The Giving Tree, but the tears at the end of Charlotte’s Web are totally earned.

So if you want a children’s book that teaches the value of giving and receiving, I’d leave The Giving Tree on the shelf. But Charlotte’s Web? That’s a keeper.

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M&P1I’m not much for reunions. I’ve never made it to my college reunions because they always seem to take place on my wedding anniversary (hubs and I tied the knot right after graduation) and rural Iowa is not exactly the ideal place to celebrate your wedding. I made it to one of my high school reunions and decided I didn’t need to go to any more. When the invitations went out for this year’s reunion, though, I contacted my best friend from high school to see if she wanted to go. She was enthusiastic about getting together, but equally lukewarm about heading off to Wichita, Kansas.

Well, said I, does a high school reunion have to take place at high school?

Which explains how I ended up in San Diego last week. My friend Peg and I decided to have our own ad hoc high school reunion in a place that would be more fun to visit than Kansas in October. Peg’s from Arizona and I’m from Colorado, so California was fairly close for both of us (plus I prefer flying west to flying east—far more fun to gain an hour than to lose two). We ate a lot of sea food, drank a lot of wine (me) and martinis (Peg) and generally had a great time. So what did I learn?

1. “Hop on, hop off” trolley tours are the best. In a place like San Diego where there are lots of attractions spread out around the area, a trolley tour can save you a lot of time and let you take sight-seeing at your own pace (as long as you’re back on the trolley before five). Thanks to the tour, we got to see Coronado, Little Italy, and Old Town, as well as having a nice long trolley ride to let our feet recover from all that walking.

2. If you see a farmers market while you’re on vacation, by all means go. I’d already discovered this in the Western Colorado tour the hubs and I took last month, but I discovered it again in San Diego. California farmers markets are strange and wonderful from a Coloradoan point of view. Lots of olive oil. Far fewer custom meat purveyors (no Berkshire hogs—a staple of Colorado farmers markets). At least I couldn’t load up on produce this time, but I could sure admire it.

3. The Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography is so worth a visit. They have leafy sea dragons. Leafy sea dragons. I would have stood next to the glass and watched them for hours if I hadn’t also been surrounded by shrieking toddlers. I got the T-shirt, though.

4. Balboa park is simply amazing—I know of no other city park like it. Museums, gardens, an outdoor organ amphitheater (we heard the organist practicing). The Mingei Museum is not to be missed. They had a chair exhibit, which sounds weird, I know, but which was actually sort of great. We spent an entire day in the park, but as we were leaving we were both noticing things we’d missed. Sometime I’ll walk down Palm Canyon, so help me.

And yes, we did drink a toast to Wichita High School East. Several of them, in fact. I can’t wait for my next high school reunion. I’m thinking Santa Barbara this time around!

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Venus Winner

Congrats to Sherry Cammer, who wins a print copy of Venus In Blue Jeans!

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HighlanderI’m a fairly eclectic romance reader. Although there are a few genres I don’t read much, I’m open to most of them and I’ve sampled lots. There’s one big exception, though: I’m just not a fan of time travel.

I think my problem with time travel is that it strikes me as a somewhat limited concept. Basically, time travelers either adapt or they don’t. Either way, you inevitably have a period where the modern person wanders around going “why are these people all dressed funny” and transgresses various cultural norms without realizing his/her mistake. The locals correct the time traveler who either figures out she’s in another era or spends an even longer period tripping over unfamiliar customs and behaving like the worst kind of tourist.

Some readers must enjoy this, given the number of time travel books that are published each year. I don’t much. I’m particularly annoyed by time travel books where the heroine is a stereotyped feminist who keeps demanding her rights while her medieval hosts prepare to burn her at the stake. As a feminist myself, I assure you we’ve got as much sense of self-preservation as the next person. If I’m surrounded by misogynists dressed in armor and carrying swords, I’m definitely going to keep my mouth shut.

Which leads me to another point. One of the not particularly subtle subtexts of time travel books is the idea that modern women would really prefer hot guys who hadn’t been ruined by modern attitudes—some hunky highlander who’ll skip the whole “sensitivity” thing. As somebody who read a lot of medieval and renaissance lit in college, I’m here to tell you that guys in the past were just as screwed up as guys are today. In addition, in past times there were a lot fewer cultural taboos about knocking women around as long as they were either spouses or women of a certain class. Being ravaged by a highlander is still being ravaged. And given the general lack of personal hygiene at the time, even mutual ravaging probably wouldn’t be all that great for somebody from this century.

Of course, you’ve also got the reverse kind of time travel book where somebody from the past ends up in the present. I may have a limited experience with this type of book, but in the ones I’ve read, the person who travels is always male. As usual, you have a period where the guy wanders around staring at the television and muttering about witchcraft—if the heroine is really unlucky, he destroys some of her electronics in order to defend himself from alien magic. This is supposed to be funny, but for me it’s usually more annoying than anything else, largely because it’s so predictable. Eventually, of course, the hero and heroine get down to the two-backed boogie, and once again we find that “real” men from the past are far better than the emasculated versions in the present. At least in this case the heroine sometimes gets the hero to take a shower before she takes him to bed, eliminating one of my complaints about the whole trope, but my previous objections still stand. Men in the past are pretty much the same as men in the present, with fewer scruples regarding women’s rights.

So give me a historical where everybody is in the right place and time. I’ll gladly read about highlanders getting it on with highland lassies, assuming those highland lassies aren’t modern archaeologists in disguise and assuming the highland lassies are fully in agreement with those highland lads as to the desirability of having sex in the heather. But please, keep the time travel for somebody else. I’m just not interested in making the trip.

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I’ve written before about my love of well-drawn villains, by which I mean villains with understandable motivation and rational characteristics. I’m not partial to “motiveless malignancy”, which is why I’m not interested in psychopathic serial killers. But give me somebody who has a reason for doing what he or she does, even if that reason is despicable, and I’m frequently fascinated. You know the kind of person I’m thinking of, right? Somebody like Mary Balogh’s villain in Slightly Scandalous, a rather horrible woman who feels perfectly justified in her actions. Or the awful mayor in Linda Howard’s Open Season, who’s annoyed with people who just don’t understand his plans. Or Mags Bennett in Justified.

Of course, most people met Mags over a year ago—Margo Martindale, the actress who plays Mags, won an Emmy for her work. But I watch Justified on DVD, and I’m just now making her acquaintance. Let me tell you, Mags is one scary woman.

Which is not to say she’s Cruella Deville. Thanks to the Justified production designer, Mags looks and sounds like just another country woman. She favors faded housedresses and flannel shirts along with oxfords and crew socks. She’s somewhat dumpy and heavy-bodied herself, with her nondescript brown hair pulled back in the sort of ponytail that leaves chunks hanging around her weathered face. And her voice is a smooth, even-toned drawl.

Everybody in the area knows Mags and her two sons grow marijuana (actually all three sons, but one son is nominally a cop). What they don’t know, at the beginning of the season, is that Mags and her sons are planning to manipulate their way into getting a lot of money from a coal company, and that Mags has no compunction about killing anybody who gets in her way. She sends her son and another minion to torture a man whose fourteen-year-old daughter, Loretta, harvested marijuana on state land she considers hers. And when she discovers that said trafficker reported one of her men for trying to molest his daughter, she decides to kill him.

But this is where it gets interesting. Because Loretta has also come to Mags for help, and Mags has promised that said molester will be punished. When she poisons the father (placing the poison in his glass rather than the bottle so that she and her son can drink with him safely), she assures him that she’ll take care of Loretta and tells him, as he’s dying, that he’s going to be reunited with his beloved wife. And then she tells Loretta (who thinks her father has been sent out of state by Mags) that she’s looking forward to taking care of her because she’s only had boys to raise before.

All of this is, as I say, scary as hell—at least in part because Margo Martindale is so good. You believe Mags. Both when she’s being maternal and when she’s being murderous. When she tells the dying man, “I’ll raise her as my own,” it’s not only believable, it’s appalling—a much worse threat than physical violence.

Of course, Mags comes to no good end. The name of the show is Justified, after all, and the hero, Ryland Givens, is suitably relentless in his pursuit of the bad guys. Plus he’s suitably concerned about the fate of Loretta in Mags’s care, a concern that’s well-founded as it turns out.

But Mags’s double nature, her maternal concern for Loretta along with her total ruthlessness when it comes to her business interests, is what makes for a good villain, at least in my opinion. Sadism is both boring and icky. But someone like Mags, someone who believes she’s absolutely justified in doing what she does because of who she is—that’s terrifying. And fascinating. So let’s hear it for Margo and Mags. And for good villains everywhere.

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