Some Virus History

In these days when our entire world faces a new and deadly virus, some perspective might be found in a look back to another virus that once struck us. Polio.

My friend, Susan Wyatt, has just published a family memoir about her own father, Forrest Clough, who struggled against the crippling effects of this disease, A “Polio” Finds His Way: My Father’s Remarkable Journey.

Book Cover Showing the Author’s Father in His Band Uniform

It’s a loving tribute to a man who never knew the joy of walking without a crutch, never ran, never jumped, never danced. But he played a mean trumpet and traveled the world, married a gutsy and devoted woman, and fathered two children.

Despite his disability from a dread disease that attacked him at the age of four months, he forged his way through life with a good humor and resilience that seldom failed him.

I especially enjoyed the chapters where Susan describes his adventures with the Southern Methodist University (SMU) marching band which toured the nation with the football team and gained considerable attention. That’s Forrest in his band uniform on the book cover. He didn’t march but he added his fine trumpeting when the band played in the stands. His brilliance with the trumpet led to other gigs as well.

Susan relays some of the history of polio. Historians believe the disease may have been around from as early as 3700 B.C. from evidence of a disfigured Egyptian mummy.

Author Susan Clough Wyatt

It may have come across populations in waves. It ravaged Forrest in 1909. Presidential historians will remember it struck Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1921 at the age of 39. And Susan herself caught it in 1952 when she was in the third grade, although she did not suffer the paralysis her father did.

As we sit isolated, impatiently waiting and hoping for a vaccine for Covid-19, it’s unsettling to realize how long it took to come up with a vaccine for polio. We think little of it now as we and our children receive vaccines for polio.

I don’t remember the fears that swept through the country before they had a vaccine for polio. Maybe Oregon, where I grew up, had fewer cases than in other parts of the country. But I do remember getting that sugar cube–which Susan explains in her book was not available until the 1960s. Fortunately the efforts against past diseases have taught researchers a lot and will hopefully speed up today’s search dramatically.

Susan found a wealth of material for her book, thanks to her father’s diligence in recording so much of his active life in several scrapbooks he kept over the years. Then she brings in her own story and her growing understanding of the tolls polio has taken on her own life. The book is a story of challenges, of many helping friends along the way, early days in radio, and meetings with some influential people.

Susan herself has an impressive resume with her overseas work in the U.S. State Department, work stateside in career counseling, and her years as a Foreign Service Spouse, which she describes in another book, Arabian Nights and Daze: Living in Yemen with the Foreign Service.


Introducing Author Debbie Burke

In honor of her triumphant breakthrough into publication I want to introduce my good friend Debbie Burke, who agreed to write this post for my blog. I met Debbie in the late 90s when I moved to Kalispell, Montana, and joined the local writers group. Debbie was a member of my first critique group and a wonderful mentor to me in my endeavor to hone my writing skills so I could become a published author myself. Her input into the first book of my upcoming Golden Threads series was invaluable, and she was a fantastic beta reader for Book Three of the series. I was thrilled to learn of her success in having her new thriller, Instrument of the Devil, chosen for publication after she won the Kindle Scout contest.

The above photo shows a sweeping view of the Mission Mountain Range of the Rockies. In Debbie’s new book, set in these beauties surrounding Kalispell, a terrorist frames a Montana widow in his plot to bring down the electrical grid by cyberattack on the Hungry Horse Dam. When I read it I was struck by the juxtaposition of the glory and the horror.

For the post Debbie writes about mentors. As a recipient of her mentoring, although I wasn’t a young mentee, I appreciate the sentiments. Thank you, Debbie.

Paying It Forward


Debbie Burke

Stirling Silliphant was a renowned writer in Hollywood for decades. His screenplay of the 1967 movie In the Heat of the Night won an Oscar. His credits included countless TV scripts and feature films. In addition to prolific writing, he served as a generous mentor to a young Army officer named Dennis Foley.

Dennis started in Hollywood as a military advisor and slid sideways into screenwriting when a director needed an emergency rewrite by the next morning. Dennis delivered and was tasked to redo scripts even though he knew next to nothing about the craft. Stirling took Dennis under his wing and, during many late night phone conversations, talked him through problems and taught him fundamentals.

One day Dennis asked, “Stirling, you’ve helped me so much, how can I ever repay you?”

Stirling replied, “Pass it on. If you don’t, you’re an a**hole.”

For more than twenty years, Dennis has passed it on in a big way by mentoring me and hundreds of other students. If not for his wise counsel and broad experience, many of us would not have been published. [Debbie’s book cover at left.]

Sharing knowledge without expectation of payback is what mentorship is about.

My earliest mentor was my third grade teacher, Miss Parker. She recognized my hunger to write and encouraged it, while giving concrete suggestions how to improve. Years later, I invited her to my wedding…and she came!

Sadly, I lost track of her…until recently, when I looked her up on the internet, found a phone number, and called. “Are you by any chance the Miss Parker who taught at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in the 1950s?”

“Yes, I am she,” she answered, ever precise with her grammar.

She’s 87 and still sounded sharp, retired after 50 years of teaching school at all levels. We laughed about how the “bad boys” were always assigned to her classes. Although she wasn’t much taller than her third graders, she was ferociously athletic. The troublemakers knew she could drop kick them across the playground and they respected her for it.

After retirement, she taught five more years in the jail system. She affectionately called those students “my jailbirds.” I have no doubt they respected her as much as the “bad boys” had in third grade.

During our conversation, when I referred to children as “kids,” she gently corrected me, admonishing “kids are baby goats.” Still editing me all these decades later, but still with kindness. She congratulated me on the publication of my novel and I’m sending her a copy.

Many other mentors have offered their hands to lift me up. I feel a moral obligation to offer the same to those coming after me. But it’s no hardship. [That’s Debbie in front of the piano below.]

When I help young writers, I always receive more than I give.

They keep me hopping barely one step ahead of them. How to explain active verbs? Pacing? Point of view? If you really want to learn something, teach it to another person.  The more I have to explain an amorphous concept to a new writer, the more deeply I come to understand it myself. When I analyze what is wrong in someone else’s work, I recognize and can fix problems in my own.

My group, the Authors of the Flathead, sponsors an annual writing contest for high school students. One year, a particular story exploded from the pile of anonymous submissions we were reviewing. All the judges were blown away by compelling narrative, vivid characters, and sophisticated themes. We invited the winner, sixteen-year-old Sarah, to read her story at our regular meeting.

That evening, she asked me if I would mentor her in writing. Of course! Who wouldn’t want to work with a bright, energetic, dynamic young woman? Through high school and college, Sarah often sent me essays, articles, and fellowship applications to critique and edit.

Harvard ultimately accepted her and she earned her PhD in astrophysics (totally without my assistance!). By that time, I only understood a few words in her writing—the, and, because.

Two years ago, she defended her dissertation and I flew to Boston to attend. As she stood before a packed audience at the Forbes Lecture Theater, my heart swelled with pride and I used up a whole package of tissues.

Recently Dr. Sarah Rugheimer posted a video lecture on Facebook delivered by a young scientist she’s now mentoring. Her pride in her mentee’s accomplishment glowed all over the post. I messaged her: “Now you understand.”

In Stirling Silliphant’s unforgettable words: “Pass it on. If you don’t, you’re an a**hole.”

The above photo shows the Hungry Horse Dam where shivery scenes take place in Debbie Burke’s Kindle Scout winning thriller, Instrument of the Devil. Available on Amazon, the book also won the Zebulon Award sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Visit Debbie at:





Going Home Again

Who says you can’t go home again? Well, some of us do return, and my friend A. Lynn Ash writes about that in her new book Eugeneana.

Born in Eugene, Oregon, Lynn grew up there in a home over the grocery store pictured on the book cover. Then she left.

Eugeneana is a story of the hometown she came back to.

I wonder how many people take the words to heart that they can’t go home again. Do they look with longing on a past they fear can never illuminate the future? An opening theme that cannot repeat in the coda?

Lynn dared to test that when she returned to her hometown.

The book will definitely speak to people of Eugene, those who share the city’s history, as well as newcomers who want to know more.

But I think the book will also speak to those who’ve contemplated going back to other hometowns. Maybe they haven’t tried–yet. Maybe they did and it didn’t work out. Or it worked out fine and they want to link arms with Lynn and share her triumph.

I’m guessing Lynn would say you can’t go home and find it as you left it. But life’s repetition isn’t so much a circle as a spiral, each round offering a different perspective.

In a collection of vignettes, she’ll draw you into her story, but more. She’ll draw you into Eugene’s story in this memoir of her hometown, a story more poignant because she dared the return.














Friend’s Book Launch

My friend, A. Lynn Ash, launched her second book Sunday, Vagabonda: Solo Camper Out West, a memoir of her travels camping alone through the western US. Lynn and I belong to a small group of writers, mostly from the Eugene area, an offshoot of the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers. We get together for mutual support and the occasional critique. And several of us traveled together to the Women Writing the West Conference in early October. See “Conference Across the Mountains.”

An enthusiastic crowd came out to Lynn’s launch party at the lovely home of Vic and Linda Martin in Eugene.

Lynn read a short segment describing a stormy evening in the mountains with only a nosy bear for company. She seemed dubious about the bear’s intentions, and left us with a cliffhanger.

A happy Lynn shows off the cover of Vagabonda  as she prepares to sign more books. She took the cover photo herself on one of her solo treks. That’s her shadow in the lower left corner. And she has more travel photos inside.

Lynn signs another book and shows a bit of appreciation for cover and book designer Seho Chon.

Lynn’s first book, The Route From Cultus Lake, led the reader on earlier jaunts across the country, while Vagabonda continues her travels, with details gleaned from the extensive journals she kept en route.

With the gift of her background in geography and years as a birder, she shares her adventures with depth and humor.

In naming the book, she saw herself as a female vagabond, thus Vagabonda.

I feel honored that she asked me to do the back jacket blurb.

Congratulations, Lynn, on launching your new book. A big day for a writer. Cheers!


Ink and Magic

I’m delighted to introduce my friend Leslie Budewitz, whose novel, Crime Rib, has just been released. It’s the second in her mystery series set in an almost-familiar small town on an almost-familiar lake near Kalispell, Montana, where I lived for a few years. First in the series is the award-winning Death al Dente. Here’s Leslie to tell you more about “Ink and Magic.”

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by Leslie Budewitz

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Nod…

Oh, wait. Wrong story.

Once upon a time, six women gathered in the small conference room of a law office in Kalispell, Montana. They brought pages of novels in progress. They brought pencils and red pens, coffee and cookies. They brought decades of experience as readers and writers, and their understanding of setting, plot, imagery, dialogue, and characterization.

They brought their trials and tribulations, compassion, and enthusiasm.

In short, they brought their lives.

I can no longer tell you how long Janet Fisher, Debbie Burke, Deborah Epperson, Shirley Rorvik, Rena Desmond, and I met weekly to share our stories. Two years, a little more? I can tell you it was magical, an experience each of us holds dear in our writing lives. We began our critique group with some of us good friends, others new acquaintances, but all connected through the Authors of the Flathead, a multi-genre writing group that has nurtured hundreds of writers since its founding more than twenty-five years ago. We came from very different backgrounds and regions, with very different personal and professional lives. All but one of us had completed a novel, but although we’d published short stories and magazine and newspaper articles—Janet had even worked as a journalist—none of us had published a full-length book, fiction or nonfiction.

A synergy arises when compatible people gather for a shared purpose, as we did. The very best critique groups have it—usually from the start, although it may take some time and effort to develop workable ground rules that serve members’ goals and fit their personalities. Each member wants to learn and be inspired, to improve her own work, but also to prompt and support the others. To share honestly, to dig deeply into problem passages and identify what’s working and what isn’t. To brainstorm plot directions and character backgrounds. To help each other see a path through the word weeds, to cultivate a regular writing schedule and a rising word count.

In truth, I learned as much from delving into the others’ work—carefully, because an artist’s belief in her self and her work can be fragile—as from their review of mine. We all seemed to recognize that. Misunderstandings were rare, and worked out in the group. We left each meeting energized and more determined.

That’s what happens in the midst of what another friend, not a writer but a committed, passionate creator, calls “intentional creativity.”

That’s another term for magic.

My second novel—my third book—is just out this week. Janet’s new book fills a gap in western history. Deborah and Shirley have each published a novel, and Debbie and Rena continue to write extensively for regional magazines. We meet occasionally to catch up—without Janet, who returned to Oregon a few years ago.

But the magic lives on, on the page, and in the glow of friendship forged in ink.

About Crime Rib:

CrimeRib_CV.indd“Gourmet food market owner Erin Murphy is determined to get Jewel Bay, Montana’s scrumptious local fare some national attention. But her scheme for culinary celebrity goes up in flames when the town’s big break is interrupted by murder…

Food Preneurs, one of the hottest cooking shows on TV, has decided to feature Jewel Bay in an upcoming episode, and everyone in town is preparing for their close-ups, including the crew at the Glacier Mercantile, aka the Merc. Not only is Erin busy remodeling her courtyard into a relaxing dining area, she’s organizing a steak-cooking competition between three of Jewel Bay’s hottest chefs to be featured on the program.

But Erin’s plans get scorched when one of the contending cooks is found dead. With all the drama going on behind the scenes, it’s hard to figure out who didn’t have a motive to off the saucy contestant. Now, to keep the town’s rep from crashing and burning on national television, Erin will have to grill some suspects to smoke out the killer…”

About Leslie:

Leslie Budewitz is the national best-selling author of Death al Dente, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries set in northwest Montana, and winner of the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Crime Rib, the second in the series, will be published by Berkley Prime Crime on July 1, 2014. Her Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries will debut in March 2015.

Also a lawyer, Leslie won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction for Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books), making her the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction.

For more tales of life in the wilds of northwest Montana, and bonus recipes, visit her website and subscribe to her newsletter. Website:   Find her on Facebook: LeslieBudewitzAuthor


Heidi Thomas Book Tour

Dare Cover Final 1.5x2

 I’m delighted to introduce my friend Heidi M. Thomas, whose novel Dare to Dream has just been released by Globe Pequot Press/TwoDot, part of a trilogy about her grandmother who dreamed of being a rodeo cowgirl and went after that dream.

I met Heidi at a writers conference in Seattle, and now we share a publisher and an editor. This post is part of Heidi’s virtual book tour, so please come along and see what she has to say. Then let’s have a conversation with our comments.   ~Janet

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by Heidi M. Thomas

Heidi small Author PhotoLittle did I know on the warm Montana summer afternoons I rode horseback with my grandmother when I was about 10, that I would someday be writing books about her!

Working outdoors and riding horses was Grandma’s life. She loved it more than anything, and I think she wanted to instill that love in me as well. I did enjoy it and I helped my dad round up our cattle for branding and shipping, but it was part of the “chores” of ranch life for me. It wasn’t my life’s dream.

After my grandmother died when I was 12, I was looking through photo albums with my dad, and he said, “Your grandma rode steers in rodeos, and she beat Marie Gibson (a world champion bronc rider from Montana).”

I thought that was about the coolest thing a girl could have as a memory, and I carried it around in the back of my mind for many years—until I was an adult and had years of journalistic writing under my belt. I wanted to tell my grandmother’s story, but I decided to write it as a novel, so I could explore the feelings she must have had during a time of opposition to women riding roughstock with men, of having to put her rodeo dream aside to raise a family, of moving more than 20 times during the 1930s when drought drove them from one abandoned homestead to another and finally 400 miles over steep mountain passes with their horse herd to find grass.

CowgirlDreams Front Cover 1x1.5That first novel, Cowgirl Dreams was set in the 1920s, the sequel Follow the Dream in the 1930s, and Dare to Dream has completed the trilogy, set during the war years of the 1940s. In this new book, our heroine Nettie Moser completes her rodeo dream by mentoring two young neighbor girls in trick riding, since the national cowboy association the RAA no longer allowed women to compete in roughstock. This story is more fiction than the others, since to my knowledge my grandmother did not get into mentoring (unless you count me).

So, from that tiny tidbit of family history has come a novel trilogy (with two or three more books planned to round out the family saga) and a non-fiction book about the old-time cowgirls of Montana, Cowgirl Up!, to be released September 2 by Globe Pequot Press/TwoDot.

Little did I know…

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You can buy an autographed copy from Heidi’s website. Or buy a copy from the publisher. Or the usual on-line sites.

cowgirl-up-copyGood news, blog readers! Everyone who comments on this post today has a chance to win a prize. If you join the conversation you may be the winner! Please leave a comment with your (regular) T-shirt size to be placed in a drawing for a Cowgirl Up! shirt (design at right).

Tomorrow, May 7, Heidi’s blog tour host will be Brenda Whiteside. You’ll find Brenda’s blog at Heidi and Brenda will be happy to see you there.

Thank you for visiting. ~Janet