Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Five stars!!!

Funny how little things can mean so much.

I've gotten wonderful reader responses to FALLEN TREES so far. They've been even stronger than I dared to hope when it was published.

For several weeks, those reactions had been informal -- either in person, via e-mail or on social media -- but I noticed someone finally posted a review on the Amazon page for FALLEN TREES.

And it was a treat to read for an author.

"This book was fabulous. I can't wait for this author's next novel!"

They gave it 5 stars to boot. 

I realize it wasn't the New York Times Book Review, but I'm still delighted. It's gratifying that FALLEN TREES is striking a chord with readers. 

May it long continue.

If you haven't ordered a copy yet, you can do it here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A book even folks who don't like to read books are enjoying

One of best compliments I received about my latest book, FALLEN TREES, came before it was published.

I had e-mailed the manuscript to a friend of mine who liked to read. I bumped into her at a gathering of friends and she told me how much she liked it. Then her husband piped up.

"I don't usually like to read books," he said, "but I really enjoyed this one."

That's always nice for an author to hear, but it was particularly gratifying to me because it told me the story resonates with more than one demographic of readers.

It suggested it reached people who don't even like to read much, which has value no matter what.

You can order FALLEN TREES by clicking on this link. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A holiday weekend around a swimming pool

Some years back, after I had finished the first draft of FALLEN TREES, a friend of mine in Maine asked me to send her some chapters so she'd have something to read over the upcoming holiday weekend.

She had been assigned to keep an eye on the school buildings where she worked, so she couldn't go anywhere for the holiday. Not knowing how quickly Nancy read, I sent six chapters. A few hours later, she e-mailed again, asking for more chapters.

Wow, I thought. She must have really liked what she's read so far. I sent her another 10 chapters. The next morning, she emailed again, asking me to send the rest of the book.

She had a confession, she said: she had printed out the pages at the school and taken them to the swimming pool at her condo complex. As she was reading the chapters, other women sunbathing at the pool asked what she was reading. When she told them, they asked if they could read the chapters, too.

An impromptu book club had formed around the pool, she said, with the women all debating about what the main character should do ---- and now they were all eager to see how the book ended.

I e-mailed her the rest of the chapters. She later told me the book prompted several passionate discussions as the various women debated about "the right thing to do."

If you belong to a book club, I encourage you to read FALLEN TREES. It's managed to form book clubs spontaneously.

You can order copies here...and I hope you find it as engaging as that group of women around that swimming pool in Maine.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A free sample of FALLEN TREES

If this morsel whets your appetite, you can order the book here.

Fallen Trees


            The green sign announcing the county line had been turned into a target. Slugs dented the sign above an “a” and again near a “y,” stripping the paint down to gray metal.
            The county line seemed to flip a switch inside me. I gripped the steering wheel tighter and felt the same kind of dread knotting my stomach as when I was ordered to the principal’s office for tugging on Mary Lou Pfannenstiel’s pony tail in the third grade.
            I wasn’t going to see the principal today. I was going home. But the feelings were nearly the same. Almost every trip brought a cross-examination, as if I had to justify leaving in the first place. I had built a successful writing career after leaving for college and life in the big city. A spacious house in a wooded Kansas City subdivision was testimony to that. But Dad always seemed to find something wrong: he questioned my career choice when I lived in old houses for years, frugally saving my money for the home I’d finally had built a few years ago. He challenged my choices when one relationship after another had failed. He belittled my common sense when farming tasks he could do in his sleep didn’t come naturally to me.
            In the past several months, the freelance assignments that came my way so easily for years had slowed to a trickle. If I didn’t find several writing jobs soon, I’d be forced to sell the house I’d worked so hard to have.
A relationship I hoped would lead to the altar withered to nothing. I made mental lists of jobs I’d have to accept that I would never have considered before, just to pay bills – and the mortgage. Somewhere inside me, I wondered if Dad had been right all along. Still, when he had called and asked if I could come out to the farm and help him for a few days, I accepted.
“I’ve got some wood that needs to be chopped up,” he’d said. “I know you have a fireplace to feed in that monster of a house, and winter’s on the way.”
One chore always turned into a half-dozen, and the drudgery of farm work was one of the main reasons I left in the first place. The offer of free firewood was tempting, because I loved the warmth and sound of a fire on a winter’s night. But the real reason I agreed to come to the farm was that I needed to figure out whether I’d be able to revive my flagging freelance business or it was time to plot a new career course. Walking through the trees that lined our creek had always been therapeutic for me – and this was a great time of year to do it.
I drove past a house and a stand of trees on the right side of the road. The trees grew in clumps and lines out here, cottonwoods and spruces and pines and elms, massed defensively against the relentless wind. The leaves had begun to turn, giving the cottonwoods a golden crown freckled with green. Along both sides of the highway were ripening milo fields, the plant heads turning from a soft green to a burnt copper. Harvest was not far off, I could tell.
My tires hit a set of rumble strips, and I noticed I was closing in on the intersection of Highway 156. Fresh paint marked a single lane leading up to the stop sign, and I frowned. It used to be two lanes, and I wondered why they had made the change. Half a mile ahead was Sanford, a town so small it had been taken off the official state map decades ago. All that remained was a grain elevator, a railroad line passing through, four or five houses and a grade school that closed years before I was born. I thought of those errands to the Sanford Co-op that Dad would send me as a teen. Typically, he offered no instructions – only sharp words if I somehow didn’t come back with the right part or the right feed.
“You should have figured it out on your own,” he’d bark.
I wasn’t going through Sanford, though. I turned right at the intersection, averting my eyes from the sun sliding toward the horizon.  I pulled the sun visor down to shield my eyes, drove over a concrete bridge fording a draw and then crossed a longer bridge spanning the Pawnee River. I found myself looking for the spot south of the highway where the Pawnee met up with the Sawmill Creek, the tributary that bisected our farm. When I was young, my brothers, sister and I spent many a Sunday trying to catch fish in the Sawmill. Most of the time, we wouldn’t come home with more than a carp or two. By the time I was a teenager, however, the Sawmill was dry most of the time. Years of irrigation had sucked the underground aquifer so low that most rivers and creeks in western Kansas didn’t run at all unless there had been a hard rain.
My tires hit the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe spur line that angles across Highway 156 between Sanford and Rozel.
Wait a minute, I thought. That was too soon.
For decades, the Richten family farm had been distinguished by cottonwood trees lining both sides of the Sawmill next to the state highway that paralleled the creek for perhaps a quarter of a mile. Many had grown at least fifty feet tall and could be seen for miles on the flat prairie that stretched out around them. They had been my refuge. But now they were missing.
Then I saw them lying along the banks of the creek. Branches and roots pointed toward the heavens, as if they were drowning men grasping desperately at life before disappearing beneath the waves forever. I nearly drove off the road in surprise, my eyes locked on a sight I could not comprehend.
            Gravel crunched under the tires as I turned left past the mailbox and onto the driveway. A barking dog greeted my arrival. That would be Cadet, who had been patrolling the Richten farm for the past ten years or so. I drove through a row of trees that separated the homestead from the highway. Rudy Richten had planted the trees the same year he settled onto the place with Elana Kadlec, the bride he brought home from World War II. Stretches of the creek had become so heavily wooded over the decades that I sometimes felt like I had stepped into the Ozarks when I went for a walk.
            But the signature trees of the Richten farm now lay in haphazard clumps along the edges of a dead creek. The sight shattered a corner of my heart as if a crystal wineglass had dropped to the floor. The driveway curled left around the house before ending at the garage. As soon as I parked, I walked into the back yard to get another look at what my eyes couldn't believe from the highway. The stumps left behind gave the impression the Sawmill had grown teeth – molars so large that two grown men could sit on them and not touch each other.
            That was where my firewood was coming from.
            Mom came out of the house and wrapped me in a big hug. Her hair had turned colors in the autumn of her life, from the soft blonde captured in the sepia-toned photographs of the post-war years to a pale gray. But there was still sparkle in her hazel eyes and strength in the hug she gave me.
            "Oh, it's so good to see you," she said, holding me tight and rising slightly on her heels so she could rest her head on my shoulder.
            She hadn’t really needed to do that, considering she was five-feet-eight-inches tall, but Mom always did back her words with enthusiastic body language. I wanted to say something, but the feeling of being in my mother's arms again felt so good I stayed silent.
            A few moments later, I asked, "What happened to the trees?"
            "The state came in and cut them down," she said as if she were announcing the death of a relative. "They told us the trees had become a danger after that hard freeze we had a couple Halloweens ago. It killed a lot of them.”
            “I didn’t realize that,” I said. “I guess when I was here last year I didn’t notice that a lot of those trees weren’t leafing out the way they used to do.”
            “They told us those trees could fall down on the highway and hit a car, so they came out last month and cut them down. And then they told us it was up to us to clear them out, because they were blocking a major drainage system."
            "Our creek is a major drainage system?" I asked sarcastically.
            "So they say," she said with a shrug.
            “The only time it seems to have water in it any more is when it’s trying to flood,” I replied, the sarcasm still firmly in place.
            I stared out toward the highway, my mind trying to reconstruct how the creek looked when the trees blotted out the sky. I kicked at the sand in the yard, my eyes shifting from my feet to the creek and back like a person wrestling with whether to look at the aftermath of a violent automobile accident.
            "How's Dad taking it?"
            "What could we do? We didn't have a choice."
            She looked out at an empty semi-trailer truck rolling past, lurching with a metallic clank as it crossed the railroad tracks.
            "It sure looks different, doesn't it?" she admitted.
            "It feels different."
            "I hope that, as long as we're here, it still feels like home," she said.
            “Of course,” I said quickly. "Where's Dad?"
            "Out in the field baling. He wants to get the hay up before it rains.”
            I looked to the south, between the brick equipment shed and the old livestock barn west of the house. Trees lining the creek blocked the view, but I knew Dad was out there somewhere.
            "How's the hay doing this year?"
            "It was so dry this winter our first cutting was a month late, but the last two have been pretty good, and this could be our best one yet - if rain doesn't spoil it. Have you eaten? I've got supper in the oven."
            "Good thing I didn't eat much on the drive home. When will Dad come in?”
            "When he's done, or done in, I guess. You know him."
            I smiled knowingly. Dad was stern and stoic as we were growing up, and time hadn't mellowed him much.
            "Oh, he's getting better about coming in at a decent hour,” Mom said, picking up on the tone in my laugh. “If it weren't for the hay, he'd have already called it a day."
            The setting sun painted the western sky pink as it neared the horizon. I walked over to my pickup, opened the passenger door and pulled my suitcase and garment bag from the bench seat in the extended cab.
            "Am I staying in my old room? Or do you have a major project going on in there?"
            "No, it's all yours. I even put an extra blanket at the foot of the bed in case you need it."
            I made my way through the front door, across the foyer and toward the wooden staircase Dad built by hand. The place hadn’t changed in decades, it seemed. There was that photo of Mom, taken back in the ‘50s, her face alight with laughter. Something in the picture caught my eye and made me stop. That photo had been there so long we barely noticed it most of the time. But this time, in the distance behind Mom, I noticed the trees. They weren’t very tall then. Like Mom and Dad, they were young and strong and full of potential. I studied each tree as if it were a young relative whose face I was trying to recognize.
            Mom walked in from the kitchen and saw me looking at her photo.
            “I was young and pretty once, wasn’t I?” she said, a lilt in her voice as she smiled.
            “You’re still pretty,” I said. “Time hasn’t changed that.”
            Her face glowed at the compliment.
            “I was noticing the trees in the background, too,” I said.
            Mom came over and looked at the picture with me.
            “We were so much younger then, weren’t we?” she asked. “I wonder how much longer it’ll be before they cut us down and dump us in the ground?”
            Her directness caught me off guard.
            “Hopefully, not for quite a while yet,” I said, turning to head up the stairs.
             I glanced back and saw Mom studying the picture. I took a left at the top of the stairs and headed toward the bedroom at the end of the hallway. My bedroom. A rush of cool air greeted me when I opened the door, courtesy of an air conditioner grumbling from the window. It sounded like a bearing was going out somewhere, but it sounded like that when I was a kid, too. I shut it off, pausing to look out the window at the garden on the other side of the driveway. Pale yellow stalks of sweet corn stood weary sentry over a patch of ground that had fed our family since before I was born.  Somewhere in there, I suspected, lay pumpkins and squash and late-arriving tomatoes. The garden had always been Mom’s personal piece of magic: she could go out there and come back with something good to eat no matter what time of year it was.
            The bed I slept on as a teenager was freshly made, with two pillows tucked carefully under the covers. I opened the sliding door in the wall and hung my garment bag on the wooden pole that served as a clothes rack. I ducked my head as I did it, because the upstairs had once been the attic and the walls sloped sharply toward the top of the roof. Handmade wooden drawers were one sliding door over. I wiped away dust thick enough to write my name and unpacked my suitcase.
            When I got down to the dinner table, I saw there were only two place settings. Dad was obviously still in the field. I washed, combed my hair and checked to make sure my shirt was tucked in - echoes of the table rules we had all been raised with. After Mom and I prayed, we ate for a few minutes in silence. That made it easy to hear the rumble of an approaching tractor.
            "There he is," Mom said, jumping up to set a place for him.
            I could feel a flinch of trepidation within me as the tractor came closer. I wondered what kind of mood he would be in. I was already finished eating when he made it to the table.
            He changed a room just by walking into it. He stood 6-foot-5 and had a voice that could strip hide when he raised it. Every Veterans Day he put on his old Lieutenant's uniform, polished the shoes and the brass until they gleamed and marched in Larned's annual parade with his head held high.
            "Get it finished?" I asked as he sat at his customary spot at the head of the table.
            "No, but I will tomorrow," he said, adding "after Mass" when Mom gave him a look.
            "I thought we could go visit the grave tomorrow," Mom interjected.
            Randy, my younger brother, was killed in a car wreck seven weeks after graduating from high school. He was the baby of the family, born less than two years after I was. He grew up with a knack for things mechanical, had a way of getting things to grow, and loved to make things out of nothing. In other words, he was a natural farmer.
            In retrospect, I realized, my biggest flaw was simply that I wasn't Randy. But I didn't want to be like Randy. I wanted to write, to challenge my mind, to explore the world. I saw the farm as a massive chain that kept me from being who I wanted to be. Randy saw the farm as a garden for the world, and he would be its caretaker when his time came.
            "Are you sure the rain's going to hold off long enough?" I asked.
            "We'll see," he said.
            "I can't believe what happened to the trees," I told him.
            "That's where your wood's coming from,” he said as he chewed a bite of baked steak.
            "So I gathered. But do you have a chainsaw stout enough to handle trees of that size?”
            "Oh, we'll figure something out. I need to get that wood out of the channel, and I knew you needed firewood for that big house of yours.”
            "How long is it going to take?"
            "How long do you have?” he asked with a gleam in his eye. “Unless you stay here until spring, we won’t get it finished before you leave.”
            “How long are you staying?” Mom asked hopefully, sitting across from me.
            "Until I fill up the back of my pickup, I guess," I said with a laugh.
            "That's fair enough," Mom said quickly, looking at Dad as she said it.
            Dad was chewing, his face betraying little. His eyes refused to look at me, and I realized he had hoped for more.
            “Actually, I’ll probably be here for about a week,” I said. “That should help at least a little.”
            “Good,” Dad said. “I could use the hand.”
            I helped clear the table after Dad finished eating. Cadet barked in the darkness, and I wondered if coyotes were prowling around the creek. I walked into the living room, where Dad was settled into his recliner, reading a magazine. I found a stack of the local weekly newspapers and began browsing through them to get a sense of what had been happening in the area recently.
            Without looking up, I asked Dad, “So how’s the hay?”
            “Won’t know ‘til we get it up,” he said. “Sure wish that rain wasn’t in the forecast just now.”
            “Will it be enough rain to really mess up the cutting?”
            “Could be.”
            “Figures. Never seems to rain when you want it to, and always seems to rain when you don’t want it to.”
            We settled back into silence, and my eyelids grew heavy. Glancing at my watch, I realized it was later than I thought. The news was about to come on, but I didn’t feel like waiting up for it.
            “I’m calling it a night,” I said, walking past Dad’s chair and tapping the arm rest. “’Night.”
            “Night,” he said without looking up.
            I saw Mom puttering in the kitchen, so I poked my head in there.
            “I’m off to bed. Wake me about 7."
            "Are you going to want breakfast before we leave? I made cinnamon rolls..."
            “Then my answer is ‘yes,’” I told her.
            The metallic taste of the farm's mineral-laden well water assaulted my tongue as I brushed my teeth. When I was young, I thought it was the best-tasting water in the world. Now it just tasted "old." Returning to the bedroom, I turned out the light and crawled into bed. I thought about all those nights I stared at the same ceiling while I was growing up, wondering what life had in store for me.
            The next sound I heard was someone thumping the ceiling of the kitchen below me with a broom handle. It was Sunday morning. Time to get up.

 I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading. Again, if you'd like to purchase the book, you can order it here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A milestone moment!

Today marked an exciting milestone of sorts for me. It was National Read A Book Day, and someone was marking the occasion by reading my newest book, FALLEN TREES!

I was both humbled and thrilled...and, best of all, she was enjoying the book! 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Glowing praise for my newest book

I was having brunch today with a friend who was visiting family from out of state for the holiday weekend. We covered a wide range of topics, as we typically do, and one of them was my newest book, FALLEN TREES.

As we were talking, a local friend happened to stroll by our booth on the way to the brunch buffet. She stopped to say 'Hi' and we chatted briefly. Then I remembered she has already read FALLEN TREES, so I asked her what she thought of it.

"Oh, I loved it!" she replied.

She then went on to say she liked it so much she was going to buy copies for friends of hers and recommend it to still others. Talk about music to an author's ears.

My friend from Oklahoma had already bought a copy, but she's now more eager to read the book than ever.

The local friend talked about how she had to remind herself that it was fiction because the characters seemed so real to her. More sweet music for an author.

If you'd like to order a copy, you can go here. Happy reading!