Book 6 Cover: Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming in May!

A few tweaks and edits still need to occur, and the back cover needs some adjusting, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer to show you the cover!

Book 6 front cover

Finding a model stand-in for an older Perrin Shin was, I was sure, going to be difficult. I needed a tall man with whitening hair and a presence.  I mentioned my quest to my oldest daughter, and Madison immediately begin sending me links to professors she’s worked with during her undergrad and graduate school years at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I felt quite awkward “analyzing” these professors for Perrin-like qualities, as if on some kind of bizarre dating ritual. (I apologized in my head to their wives, and to my own husband, as I carefully scrutinized each candidate who had no idea he was part of this evaluation.)

Among the profiles was Dr. David Crandall. In fact, he was the first recommendation that my daughter blurted out. Madison has been his head TA for some years now, and when I saw his picture, I gasped.

Perrin Shin is an Oxford-trained anthropologist?!

I asked Madison what he’d think about standing in as a model, and she said, “He lives among the Himba in Africa every summer. You’re not going to find a more chill man anywhere. I’m sure he’ll do it!”

So I wrote an email, then rewrote it and rewrote it, a lengthy message trying to explain to him the book series, the character, what I hoped he’d be willing to do (dress up, walk around in trees, wrangle little boys), and I sent it off, holding my breath.

My daughter asked to see my email after the fact, and then she sighed. “Mom, he’ll read only the top line and skim the rest. He’s a busy man!”

But I’d already sent it, had oversold it, and my doom was sealed.

Until he responded a couple days later with, “Sure, why not? When?”

Uh . . . ok! I made costumes, I checked calendars for travel (I don’t exactly live near BYU), and found an afternoon he was available.

On the day of the photo shoot I became anxious and nervous, and during the two-hour drive I kept thinking, I’m asking a grown man–a stranger–to dress up so I can take pictures of him. Who does this sort of thing?! I don’t always do well with real live people. But I couldn’t back out now, as my teenage son frequently reminded me in the car when I’d start to hyperventilate again.

My entourage and I met him at the duck pond on BYU campus, where mature trees grow up a hillside. Dr. Crandall smiled amiably—yep, very Perrin-like—and strolled over to greet Madison, his right-hand woman in managing his dozen freshmen courses and teaching assistants. Intimidated by his height and presence, and that I was about to order him to do my bidding, I handed him the shirt I wanted him to wear. He put it on, looked around cheerfully, and said, “Now, what exactly are we doing again?”

I nearly snorted. Madison was right—he hadn’t read my explanations (there had been follow-up emails where I wrote him short stories, and he responded with a short sentence). I was struck by the notion that he didn’t have time to read my emails, but because he appreciated my daughter’s work, he willingly gave up half an hour to help Madison’s mother with whatever she was up to.

Feeling flustered as I always am when I try to tell people what I do (I’m horrible at marketing myself), I gave him the exceptionally condensed version of the Forest at the Edge series, and explained the set-up for the shots we’d be taking.

He nodded benignly and said, “All right, tell me where to walk.” He was so laid-back, so easy-going, I could have led him into Hades and I think he would have merely looked around and said, “Interesting architecture.”

Instead, I did the next worst thing: I released upon him a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Then I said, “Just try to walk with them, while I go far, far away up this hillside and take pictures. Boys, stay with Dr. Crandall,” knowing full well that wasn’t going to happen.

For the next half hour Dr. Crandall gamely tried to keep up with, drag along, or find the two preschoolers as they wandered off, got distracted, or got excited. [When you read the book, you’ll see how fitting the whole scenario was.]

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“Dr. Crandall, we’re losing one . . .”

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“Now we’ve lost the other one . . .”

In the meantime, my son-in-law Austin Pearce and I took photo after photo, hoping that something might work since we’re not experienced action-shot photographers.

Eventually, we decided we had enough shots. Dr. Crandall took off the shirt I gave him and said, teasingly, “And a star is born! Good luck with your book.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes,” I said bashfully. “It’s part of a series. Umm, I’ve got a couple of readers. Actually, the series has been downloaded about thirty thousand times, so yeah—you just might become famous!”

See how I’m such a goober with real, live people? This is why I write, so I can hide behind a computer and not face anyone and babble goofily at them. In his field, Dr. Crandall is already famous. (His own book, The Place of Stunted Ironwood Trees is cited in this recent article.)

Once I looked at the pictures on my laptop, none were what I was hoping for. Initially I had hoped to capture profiles or sharp, distant images of Dr. Crandall, nothing too close or detailed, because I want readers to picture the characters as they wish, without cover art over-influencing or taking too much away. But none of those shots had worked.

Slightly discouraged, I remembered that none of my book covers have been what I originally wanted, but have turned out in surprising ways. I began to fiddle with half a dozen photos, when this emerged.

Book 6 front cover

And suddenly, it was perfect. Dr. Crandall gripping the two-year-old’s hand while earnestly watching the steep terrain he was leading him up (does he have perfect hair or what?), the curious/cautious expression on the littlest boy’s face, the other boy working to maintain balance—suddenly it was representative of many aspects of Flight of the Wounded Falcon, metaphorical bits I hadn’t anticipated but were manifesting subtly, and I knew I had my cover. The trees, the background, the angles, the motion—I never would have been able to stage that purposely.

I contacted Dr. Crandall’s secretary recently so that I could send him a thank you gift, and found out that he’s already in Africa again, hanging out with the Himba and a bunch of students for the summer. How chill is that? (Did I use that word “chill” properly? Shows how un-chill I am. Is “un-chill” a word?)

So chill, my friends–Book 6 will be coming soon in May (after a few more tweaks, a few more edits, and a proof or two). I can hardly wait to share it with you.

 

Book 6 teaser–What do you find entertaining?

Just as you can learn a lot about a person by what they laugh at, so too can you understand their character by what entertains them.

What one watches, reads, puts up on their walls, and pours into their minds will tell you a lot more about someone than what comes out of their mouth.

book 6 world's entertainment

(I can’t help myself–the first thing I do when I walk into someone’s house is evaluate the art on the walls and glance at the titles on the bookshelf, if there is one.)

Book 6 Teaser–Just how many laws are you breaking today?

There are so many laws in the United States—likely many more than 300,000—that no one is sure of just how many. I’m probably breaking a few laws typing in my robe near a window.

When I tried to find out how many laws there were in my state (they add an average 300-400 each year), I couldn’t find a definitive number, but Google popped up warning me that the official state websites wanted to know where I was, and would I allow my personal information to be shared?

I shut down those sites immediately, and likely broke another handful of laws doing so.

In re-reading one of my favorite books, “How to Rule the World,” I’m reminded again how governments become totalitarian by whittling away people’s freedoms, one law at a time. We’re told that they’re to protect us, to keep us “safe,” but since more and more regulation confines and restricts us, and we have to always ask the question, “Why?”

And then ask “Why?” again, and again.

book 6 teaser lots of rules

Book 6 Teaser: Toss that past! (Or, how I finally let go of bad 30-year-old paintings and other junk that holds me back)

There’s one huge advantage to moving cross-country: knowing that everything you own has to fit in one truck, or it gets left behind. The “There’s no going back for that,” mentality has forced me to evaluate what can be released. Web and Facebook pages of minimalist strategies has helped me to see the clutter I no longer want to.

It’s also allowed me to give up things from my past that I should have shed decades ago.

Such as my oil paintings from high school. My father kindly framed them, my mother generously displayed them, but aside from some decent technique here and there, the paintings were unremarkable. So much so that for thirty years—30!—I’ve kept them in a bulky box and carted them from home to home, across the country twice, and finally, last month donated them to a recycling store. Someone else can paint over the canvas.

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While this won first place in a school district competition, it’s an EXACT replica of a very common 1980s poster. What’s the point of replicating a $3 poster?!

I held on to the mediocre art, not even fit for a motel room, because it represented something: my teenage dream to someday be a wildlife artist. I’m “artistic” in that I’ve remodeled homes, made many designs for my Etsy shop, created my book covers, but I never painted that one great work of art.

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The best thing about this cougar was the head, which my art teacher did to get me started. Notice my “happy little trees“? Yes, I was a Bob Ross watcher.

Finally I accepted that I don’t have to fulfill a dream I randomly pulled out of the air when I was 16. I may someday pick up fine art painting again, and if I do, would I really want these old paintings haunting me with bad proportions, inconsistencies, and random highlights and shadows? No!

So I did what I’d wanted to do two decades ago, but didn’t dare: I sent them on their way, grateful for what I learned, and ready to look forward, not backward.

I’ve done this with many objects: clothes I’ve held on to for too many years, books I’ll never read again, dishes and collectibles and Christmas décor and fabric I’ve kept out of obligation. All of it is gloriously gone, at least half a moving truck full.

I keep putting aside those things that hold me back, that remind me of what I used to be, and the old dreams that I no longer care about. Unfinished stitching projects, untouched wood crafts that went out of fashion in the 1990s, old stencils I used for a bathroom two houses and fifteen years ago.

When I let those go, I get to look forward. I get to plan for what I want to become now, where I hope to go in the future.

Gone, too, is a lot of regret, a lot of “Oh, I should have kept pursuing this, although I had no time or resources or desire.” I’m able to think, “It seemed like a worthy pursuit at the time, and it’s had its moment which is now over. I get to pursue something new.”

Solidly in middle age, I’m finding the satisfaction of releasing my younger self. I no longer collect teddy bears or snowmen . . . or anything, really. Once I thought collections were necessary. Now each week I make sure my extra garbage can is brim full of stuff that previously held me back. To the donation store goes tablecloths I never used, to the neighbors go canning jars and vases I won’t fill, and to the dump goes the sofas I can no longer repair.

No more hauling around old expectations and obligations, or feeling guilty about dreams that were never feasible or necessary anyway.

Onward, I get to go freely.

While Peto knew the satisfaction of harping about the past, he also knew that satisfaction was short-lived, soon to be replaced with renewed feelings of anger about a life that couldn’t be changed, words that couldn’t be unsaid, and events that couldn’t be erased. The past was to be occasionally remembered, but not lived in.

There’s too much to do today to dwell on yesterday.

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser THE PAST

 

Don’t kill The Beast! I love “Beauty and the Beast” (even though as a conservative Christian I’ve been told to shun it)

I wasn’t going to see the new “Beauty and the Beast,” although I’d been looking forward to it ever since it was announced two years ago, because of that “gay factor.”

But then I decided to go anyway, because I remembered something: People are not always worth listening to.

So here’s this very conservative Christian’s take on it: I LOVED IT!

Oh, it was bigger than life! Visually gorgeous, with additions to the story that made it so much richer than the 1991 cartoon. The music and the characters all had greater depth, the story deeper meaning, and “those scenes”? Can we say, much ado about nothing?

I’d been betrayed.
Deceived.
Thrown into angst over really nothing.
In fact, I found myself quite liking the “gay” character LeFou. He was never as evil or nasty as some reviewers had suggested, and became the voice of reason toward the end, making some excellent choices. His orientation (which he’s not entirely sure about himself) had no bearing upon his improving character. (And yes, I caught all the verbal references, and I thought they were pertinent and hilarious.)

Indeed, I found myself rather ticked off that I’d ever considered boycotting the movie because of the raging on both sides of the issue. The “This is our first gay character and we’re proud!” was merely PR blustering, because once I saw the movie I was left thinking, “Sheesh. THAT’S gay? Gimme a break.” Then there was the “Oh, horrible Disney! It’s all over and the world will end with this movie!” blustering on the other side which now makes me roll my eyes. (And as for the old argument that the movie promotes bestiality? Those worriers don’t know what bestiality is. Belle clearly is attracted to the beast’s humanity, such as his knowledge of literature.)

All of which had me pondering as I drove home from the movie, “Does something have to be perfect—‘perfect’ according to my very particular standards and sensibilities—in order to be ‘good enough’ for me to enjoy?”

No. Nothing needs to be ‘perfect’ because why in the world should I expect the world to meet my peculiar sense of perfect? Or anyone else’s idea of “perfect”?

Another movie example: I finally saw “Moana,” and I’d heard criticisms of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s singing in “You’re Welcome.” Cringing in worry when he started, I soon relaxed, because you know what? He sang great! Better than me, that’s for sure. (And that’s not hard, either. Is there anything dear Dwayne can’t do?*) (Listen for yourself, and I defy you to not have this earworm stuck in your head for the rest of forever.)

Too many critics, too many snarky folks insisting that this wasn’t perfect in the movie, or that could have been better, kept me from watching “Moana” until this past weekend. And you know what? I LOVED IT! I’m getting the music to add to my walking repertoire.

I find myself scratching my head more and more frequently at the immense criticism flying around about every last little thing, and finding that very little of it is actually deserved. I need to stop listening to people, at least the critical ones. And at times it seems nearly everyone is a critic, for the worst of reasons.

It’s as if we’re finding power and authority in dragging someone else down.
As if we think we’re something special because we can nitpick someone else.
As if we can’t accept something unless it’s our perception of perfect.

Here’s the thing: NO ONE and NOTHING is perfect! (Not even “Rogue One,” which some of my Star Wars crazed children believe IS PERFECT, even though I LOVED IT!)

Ask yourself this: why should my definition of perfect be met by others? Why should I expect writers and actors and politicians and music and entertainment and stores and products and every last little thing in the world pander to what I believe is perfect?

How utterly self-centered and childish.

Here’s the other thing, the more important thing: God doesn’t demand that we’re perfect, either. He loves and appreciates us as we are.

Now, He tells us to strive for perfection, which, according to the scriptures, actually means becoming one with God the Father. Jesus himself didn’t declare himself perfect until after he was resurrected and was one with the Father, which tells me that perfection is impossible in life.

However, perfection is the goal, because it has to be. Nothing less, really, will do. As the great football coach Vince Lombardi said, “We strive for perfection, knowing we’ll never get it, but achieve excellence as we do so.”

Ah, EXCELLENCE! THAT’S the mark! Perfection is impossible; for you, for me, for anything we experience.

But excellence? That’s everywhere! I can create lists of truly excellent movies, music, people, books, art, national parks—and I’d probably never find an end to them.

“Beauty and the Beast” was excellent. So was “Moana,” and “Rogue One.” So are thousands and millions of other things.

Enjoy that excellence! See how someone else did something well, and let it inspire you to try to make something excellent in return. There’s no reason—no decent, good, honest reason whatsoever—to demean and denounce and degrade something minor in something that is excellent.

Because isn’t it wonderful that something can be marvelous, but the minor smudges left by the very human people who created it remain, and still it’s excellent?

So instead of harping upon these flaws, these perceived slights to our overly sensitive sensibilities, forgive them. Accept them. Take heart in them, that excellence abounds despite small failures.

Excellence abounds even in us, despite all of our failures. Maybe we need to be more accepting of ourselves to be more appreciative of the wondrous success of others around us. We’re not competing with them; we’re being inspired by them!

That’s why I’m not listening to the critical voices anymore, because think of the most critical people you know, those who are never satisfied, those who can always find even the smallest imperfection and shine a magnifying spotlight on it. Aren’t those also the most miserable people you know? Aren’t the most self-righteous also the least righteous?Image result for monuments to critics quotes

No one likes the critic. There’s nothing noble in criticism. Never has been. I’m beginning to suspect the most critical people are also those who never attempt to do anything themselves, so that they never are subjected to critics like themselves. Perhaps it’s jealousy that drives them to pick at others, or immense insecurity. Or fear of their own failure.

Criticism doesn’t bring joy. It doesn’t bring improvement. It doesn’t fix anything, either.

But appreciating someone’s efforts does. Identifying and acknowledging their successes. Learning from what they’ve learned. Rejoicing in their excellence, and taking from it that nudge to make something more excellent yourself—there, THERE is joy!

This world and people who make stuff in it are fantastic. Once we quit criticizing every potentially offensive item, we’ll discover what an amazing place we live in.

(And if you can’t, I’ll simply quit listening to you.)

Mahrree’s heart sank to her knees as she watched the three darling girls who she loved so much do their best, their eyes darting over to her as they read their lines, anxious for her approval, and likely fearing her criticism.

They had done their best. Who was Mahrree to point out anything else?

~Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

book 6 teaser Critics

(*Totally unrelated to anything here, but an epiphany I had the other day–for those who have read my books, Perrin Shin is about 20% Dwayne Johnson. The other parts of him are Yun-Fat Chow, Colin Firth, Manu Bennett, and my husband, the cute man there in the corner.)Dave smiling

Book 6 Teaser–The one thing those in power fear

 

book-6-teaserthose-with-power-threatened

I’ve been trying to find examples where this isn’t the case lately, but . . . nope.

Perhaps the biggest threat to institutions are those folks who actually spend five minutes thinking about the issues. Most people just deliver a knee-jerk reaction (emphasis on the “jerk”) concerning any issue–racing to protest, to complain, to throw a fit–without actually analyzing why they are.

In my inconsequential opinion, every political side has become extremist and sensational, leaving what (I hope) is the majority of us watching the swirling all around us, waiting for a break in the action so we can make a collective run for it.

It’s those who ponder and think, who don’t jump to conclusions or accept the scandal of the day as doctrine, who will (hopefully) eventually change the world.

Or escape it.

Book 6 Teaser: Marriage can be the scariest endeavor . . .

There’s the story about a young woman saying happily to her parents on her wedding day, “Now I’m at the end of all my worries!”

Her parents glanced at each other said, “True, but she doesn’t know which end.”

That’s not to discourage anyone from marriage, but to point out that there’s no greater adventure, no bigger challenge, and no more rewarding endeavor than figuring out how to leave peaceably with a stranger, and then welcoming more of them, in miniature, into your home.

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Traveling abroad to some remote locale, like climbing Mt. Everest or backpacking through Australia, is generally considered among the greatest adventures, but nothing compares to raising a family at home.

And you don’t even need a passport or a bottomless bank account for this fantastic, exasperating, thrilling, terrifying endeavor.  In fact, not having those, and knowing you can’t escape, only adds to the intensity.

Savor it.

Title of Book 6, and it’s coming May 2017!

Here’s my Valentine’s treat: the title of Book 6:

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The current plan is to release in May (thus the nebulous “spring”–gives me some wiggle room).

This is the back cover of the book; the front is still in production (ooh, and it’s gonna be good!), but a note on this image: if you’ve read book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, you’ll recall that Perrin and Peto create a tree-slashing method for marking paths to the ancient temple ruin.

I wanted to make sure this strategy would actually work. So about two and a half years ago, when I was first drafting the series, I went out to my little aspen forest in my front yard and slashed a tree with a knife.

(One of my kids saw me doing it, and he was aghast. “For research,” I explained, and because I sometimes do odd things in the name of research [such as pushing down a dead tree in a burned out forest to see if I could; I could, and it’ll be in book 7] he didn’t ask anything else.)

The slashes on the aspen healed into beautiful, dark lines, as you can see by the photo.

Now, if you should visit my house and can’t find your way to my massive blue fifteen-passenger van in the driveway, just consult the aspen and it will tell how many paces in tens, and in what direction, you need to go. (Or get your eyes examined because, seriously, that’s a huge vehicle.)

Teaser lines from Book 6 will be coming at you every week now, and the countdown’s on!