Speaking in Roseburg

The Douglas County Genealogical Society asked me to speak at their meeting Thursday, November 19, at 1 pm in Room 310 of the Douglas County Courthouse. I’ll be talking about my books, A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds. The meeting is open to the public.

For the benefit of many in the audience who may be searching for their own ancestors, I want to share some of my experiences in seeking out the story of my great-great-grandmother Martha Maupin, subject of my first book, A Place of Her Own.

I will go on to tell how that book came to be published and how that led to a deal on the second book, The Shifting Winds, which will be released in March 2016.

Time permitting I’ll read excerpts, leaving plenty of time for questions from the audience.


Outtakes #11 – A Place of Her Own

This post comes from an opening for another of my personal chapters for A Place of Her Own, a segment describing Wildcat Canyon, a remarkable cleft on the mountain. The chapter title was “The Death of Dreams.” The scene leads into a discussion of divorce, some of which was retained in an Interlude. But most of this was cut. Clip…..

Wet-Oregon-06On our walk through Wildcat Canyon, my son-in-law, Robin Loznak, captured a stunning image of this exquisite mushroom goblet, as it drank up the rain.


The canyon, November 2010. A canyon could close in on you, give you a sense of entrapment. It could be a place of danger, haunted by cougars and rattlesnakes and unnamed fears. As I walked through Wildcat Canyon, the deepest cleft on the property, I felt a mix of unease and adventure. I was here. I accepted the challenge. A bristling sensation crossed my flesh, as if alerting me to every element around me.

Drips of rain filtered through the canopy of trees, the thick evergreen boughs offering some cover against the shower that surprised us. Lured out on this November morning by a feeble sun after days of rain, my son-in-law and I had decided to take this walk today. A light drizzle started before we even reached the Tree Farm Road up to the west hills pasture, and by the time we approached the mouth of the canyon, rain had begun to fall in earnest. We were glad for the tree cover and hoped the shower would soon pass.

Our two dogs hurried ahead, oblivious to the weather. I had asked Robin to go with me into the canyon, believing it one place Martha would surely want to explore. Her sons would, as Robin and my grandson Alex did when they learned of the place soon after they moved here. With recent cougar sightings in the area, I wasn’t comfortable going alone. The dogs would help scare off big predators, but another person would help too. Robin was happy to come along. He brought his big camera, ready to get some good nature photos.

We tramped uphill along the old logging road that cut through the canyon, not much more than a trail now, overgrown with grass and brambles, fungi scattered over the spongy ground. Unusual mushrooms, like orange goblets, lifted their heads as if to gather nectar pouring from branches above.

Towering Douglas firs helped dim the scattered light reaching this narrow gash in the earth. A high rock wall loomed on our left, just beyond the deepest cut below the road. I tipped my head back to see the top of the wall, up to the twisted trees lining the upper edge. The yawning mouth of a small cave opened deep in the rock near the top. Jagged ledges and holes marked the entire cliff face. Places for predators to hide? Ferns draped from the rock wall and covered the canyon floor, where moss carpeted rocks, tree trunks, stumps.

We scrambled down to the base, nearer the cliff. Should we? We found game trails. Cougar? Or just deer, the cougar’s favorite food? Would we surprise something we wouldn’t want to stir? No cougar would be unaware of our presence as we stomped through brush, snapping twigs, the dogs dashing from one curiosity to the next.

The overhead boughs could no longer hold back the rain that began to pour steadily, drenching us and everything around us. I pressed through the waist-high ferns, clinging to their giant wet fronds to keep from falling on the steep slope strewn with fallen branches, logs and rocks. A thick mulch covered the earth, the debris of ages. I couldn’t see a game trail anymore. As I plowed forward, I tried to imagine traipsing through this in long skirts.

Brambles tripped me. How like life. I could feel Martha’s sense of entrapment, her desperation, as she plunged through her own canyon of challenge. Divorce. It had seemed a foreign word to me. Something other people did. Yet how much worse for Martha in her day. Although not unknown in 1860, especially in the West, divorce was still rare. How could she do it? But how could she not?

I had asked myself the same questions. Shaking my head, I walked on, thinking about her. Why did she stay with him as long as she did?


The Shifting Winds Online

ShiftingWinds cover jpegUpdate: The release date has changed, as some of you may have noticed. The book is now set to come out on March 1, 2016, one month earlier than planned. And the publisher has slightly tweaked the cover art, making the “F” in the author’s name more readable.

My upcoming book, historical novel The Shifting Winds, has appeared on the online sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble for pre-order.

You’ll also find it listed on Indie Bound. That’s a cool site where you can put in your zip code and find a list of nearby independent bookstores that will offer the book for sale. I always like to support the local stores whenever possible.

Powell’s in Portland has it listed but no photo yet. That’s almost local for us Oregonians.

And if we’re talking Portland, there’s my once-upon-a-time neighborhood store from when I lived in Portland, Annie Bloom’s Books in Multnomah Village, and they have it listed too. Yay!

Other sites include Books-A-Million and of course the publisher, Globe Pequot Press, TwoDot imprint, under the Rowman & Littlefield banner.

It’s always exciting to see the book go online. That’s when the dreams begin to whisper of a tangible, holdable bit of substance.


Outtakes #10 – A Place of Her Own

This Outtake comes from one of my personal chapters in A Place of Her Own, a segment leading to a Tribute to My Father that I’ve already used for a post. The scene describes a day my daughter Carisa and I walked up my father’s mountain and found ourselves in bear country. Most of my scenes were cut to focus on Martha’s story, including this and the tribute, but maybe you’ll enjoy this, and if you haven’t seen the tribute, you can visit that here. Clip…..

Bear-TrailcamRobin Loznak caught one of our bears with his trail-cam one night in October last year, a nice black bear posing for its portrait on the mountain. I prefer to see them this way.


The west hills, September 2010. The golden grass stood so high the dogs couldn’t see their way. One a yellow lab, the other a black lab mix, they weren’t small dogs, but the grass came well over their heads. Heavy rains last spring had produced rich forage for the cows this year, and they hadn’t been on this pasture lately, making our walk difficult, except for a few beaten trails. Deer probably. Maybe elk. Or bear.

The scent of rain filled the air now, and a soft sprinkle started again after scattered morning showers. My daughter Carisa and I tromped through the thick, damp growth behind the dogs. I wanted to check out the most recent timber planting to see how it was doing, and I wanted to check out this part of the farm, wondering if Martha had done the same in her first year here.

When I was a kid we called this pasture Horse Heaven Hills. I didn’t know why the name. Maybe because the grass grew so sweet here, the animals experienced the place as their own heaven? It always seemed a bit sublime to me. For a long time I planned to build my house over here, but when my dad cut the timber that would have circled behind the house, I began to look elsewhere.

Turning, I could see how the pasture meandered up the hill in steps and ridges, down to the bluff on one side, up to Wildcat Canyon above–a deep slice into the forested ridgetop. The land was more rugged on this side of the property than the softer ridge where my house sat. A middle ridge ran between this and my house, beyond our view now.

While I found hills and hollows in the parts of Missouri and Illinois where Martha lived and traveled, there was nothing you could call a mountain, nothing to prepare her for the terrible mountains of the West she had to cross, nothing to prepare her even for the hills of her own farm. This wasn’t anything like the rugged crests of the Rockies or Cascades. I doubted it was technically a mountain, though I hadn’t found a clear definition of the term. This rose about eight hundred fifty feet from the valley floor to the top. But to my dad this hill on our farm was always the mountain. His mountain. Maybe that was because Martha saw it as a mountain and the designation continued with the family. Hills to her would be like the gentle rises in Missouri and Illinois. The farm’s elevated land of sharp slopes and sweeping ridges was in her eyes a mountain. Before my dad, Martha’s mountain.

Dipping under a hot wire to reach our newest timber planting, Carisa and I found new firs growing well despite competition. We approached a mound of blackberry vines crouched on the land like a huge thorny web, and took advantage of its better part. Something had cleared the way into the bush. We had a little snack of the delicious berries. Then I saw a pile of scat full of berry seeds. Big scat. “What’s this?” I asked. We peered closer. Goose bumps rose on my skin. “It doesn’t look fresh.”

We stood taller and looked around. A bear had been here, a large one, but not recently. With all our noise and our two dogs, it probably wouldn’t come back now. We shrugged and happily continued our snack.

Photo by Robin Loznak And of course there’s this all-time favorite Robin Loznak photo of other wildlife on the family farm, one of several photos included in A Place of Her Own. The Roosevelt elk herd ranges across the mountain, and on rare occasions even slips down to the river bottom.


Outtakes #9 – A Place of Her Own

This Outtake reveals another short bit taken from the end of an Oregon Trail scene at the top of p. 124 in A Place of Her Own. The Maupins have survived the precipitous drop down Laurel Hill and have just come into the rich prairies west of the Cascade foothills. The cut is just 176 words, but words are words. And I desperately needed to take more out. At least it gave me more in one fell swoop than the single filler words I snipped throughout the manuscript. Clip…..

The photo above, by Robin Loznak, appears in A Place of Her Own, illustrating Douglas Firs on the family farm. Similar trees of this species would have been growing in the area depicted in this scene, though no doubt larger than these. Pioneers trekking into what is now the State of Oregon found Doug firs some 300 feet tall. Two or three men could lie head-to-foot across the diameter of a stump from one of these giants that might have been as much as 800 years old.


Near evening a cabin appeared, nestled against a grove of firs at the edge of a broad meadow. The scent of a hearth fire reached Martha’s nose, and she took a long, satisfying breath of it. People began spilling out the cabin door, running toward the wayworn travelers. A man reached them first. He lifted his hat and rubbed a hand across his thin, curly hair. “Welcome to Oregon.”

A united but somewhat ragged thank you answered him back.

He introduced himself and his wife, who came up behind him, and Garrett introduced the family. The woman went straight to Martha and gripped both her hands. “My dear, what a journey for you. When are you due?”


The woman smiled and nodded. “Oh, you’ll be settled by then. Come sit a spell and have some supper with us.”

“That’s so nice of you,” Martha said. “You must see a lot of travelers, living here.”

The woman laughed. “We do, and we love it. We all took that trip, God bless us, and we all understand.”

468.diorama mother & childThis photo taken at the Interpretive Center in Baker, Oregon, shows a part of the continuing diorama depicting a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. The woman makes me think of Martha and her little Nora, oldest of her two at the time. My heart tightens as I imagine the strain of traveling that perilous trail with such a precious, vulnerable child. Another even tinier. A third on the way. What a thrill to know in this short Outtake that they have almost made it through. Of course, Martha would have been full in her pregnancy by then.