A lot of geological features in Utah are saddled with descriptions involving the Devil, or other denizens of the netherworld. We visited two last week. In Arches National Park, we hiked in the Devil’s Garden. The next day, we visited Goblin Valley. Why Satan gets to lay claim to this region beats me.
Maybe in the heat of summer, these areas feel a little hell-like. In January, with temperatures in the 30s, a coating of snow, and hardly any other tourists, it felt like a slice of Heaven. Thus my opinion that if Satan lives in the Utah desert, he must winter in Barbados.
We went to Arches on the spur of the moment. We were not disappointed. The trail through the Devil’s Garden was snow packed and icy most of the way. We veered off on Primitive Trail.
Arches is one of many national parks that suffers the burden of popularity. We were delighted to share the trail with only a half dozen other hikers. Yes, it was cold. Yes, the trail was treacherously slick. But we enjoyed heavenly solitude.
The sun glistened off pristine snow. Blue sky contrasted with red sandstone and green pinon pine and scrubby bushes. We saw rabbit and deer tracks and scat, finally spotting one winter bunny under a bush. Ravens amused themselves watching hikers and hoping for a dropped granola bar.
After a couple miles tramping through snow, we realized we were lost. Or as lost as one can get with the aid of GPS devices. We headed back the way we came, with another hiker who was also baffled as to where the actual trail was.
We reluctantly returned to civilization, joining our friends in Moab. They suggested our next outing on Friday. We drove to Goblin Valley. Summer temperatures are well over 100 degrees. I suppose in that season, the landscape takes on a sinister cast. In winter, with a light dusting of snow, it was charming.
Row after row of bizarre, wind and water sculpted mud and rock resembles mushrooms and creatures. If you were heat and thirst crazed, they could look like goblins. We wandered around, hitting dead-end canyons and climbing petrified dunes. Again, there were maybe a half dozen people sharing the park with us.
A cautionary note: We are experienced hikers. We have the proper winter gear and backpacks loaded with survival gear. Even for a short hike on groomed trails, you don’t take chances, especially in winter.
These parks may have sinister names, but the Devil must not like cold weather. Come in the right season, and you might find a little bit of Heaven.
More photos in the slideshow below.
The story in this week's installment of Mystery Weekly Magazine is Merrill's Run by John M. Floyd. Award-winning author of hundreds of published short stories, John obviously has talent creating an exciting story - told almost entirely from the truck of a car.
Merrill Ross is on the run from a loan shark and his goons. He has dug himself into serious trouble by way of his gambling habit. Faced with the temptation to steal from his wife to pay his crippling debts, Merrill decides to flee instead. He escapes the thugs in an airport terminal, without drawing the attention of security.
Fortunately, he knows his business partner Jake has gone on a business trip, flying out of the same airport. The man is predictable. "And when Jake traveled by air he always parked here in the garage, on the second tier."
Merrill takes refuge in the trunk of Jake's car in the airport parking garage. To say more about this story risks giving away the devastating twist at the end. Every line of Merrill's Run built tension as I wondered how this guy was going to escape the situation he'd created for himself.
If you're in the mood for a good mystery, you can't go wrong picking up a short story by John M. Floyd.
Writing with Laura: I am pleased to be a guest on author Laura Wolfe's blog, Writing with Laura, on January 25th. I answer questions about why I write fiction, the highlight of my writing career, and what I do at my day job. My interview may be viewed here.
The Chaos of Change: The wood flooring project continues. Sunday, with the help of the grandkids, we cleared out everything from the living and dining rooms, the kitchen, and closets. My life will be upside down for at least the next two weeks.
My husband decided it was now or never for some long contemplated renovation, before the floor is installed. He is knocking out walls. More chaos, and clouds of drywall dust. I know there will be more work as a result - drywall installation and all the fun that entails. Then painting.
Change typically brings destruction first. Discomfort, disruption, and inconvenience. If we didn't have a specific goal in mind, I would be in complete despair, having lost the use of half my house. I know the end game. No more hideously stained, beyond redemption carpet. The permanence of oak floors. Hopefully, the alleviation of allergies.
Change brings improvement. A better lifestyle. The achievement of goals. Maybe you've decided to start, or finish, that college degree. Write a novel. Clean out a closet. Each of these projects involves creating a big mess first. Maybe that's why we find change uncomfortable. It's the in between stuff, not the end result, that we resist.
I think hard about beginning projects with the level of effort involved in installing wood floors, and yet I have several grandiose goals this year that are guaranteed to bring a certain level of pain, both mental and physical. The one goal I have failed to achieve recently has been to simplify life. This also involves a certain level of destruction as I let go of the unnecessary clutter in my life. I am cleaning closets, in a way.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying "change is the only constant in life." I suppose we should accept that change is inevitable, even beneficial, and find a way to deal gracefully with the discomfort along the way.
I subscribe to the e-zine Mystery Weekly. I confess I haven't often taken advantage of reading the stories I receive once a week in my email. Blame it on lack of time, or the overwhelming distractions of a full in box. This one caught my attention.
Faith Allington opens her story with, "Cornelius Blackmore could not decide whether Emmeline Lee was very clever or very stupid. She was one of those elusive creatures that history would never agree on, like Helen of Troy or Mary, Queen of Scots."
The Death at Knightshayes Court is a locked room mystery taking place in 1924 England. Cornelius is a rare book dealer and a touch of a snob. He arrives at the estate to see a 12th century volume of poetry in Sir Reuben's library. He is subjected to the company of a woman who reads penny dreadfuls, and another who doesn't read at all. These humorous moments make the story fun reading, while you try to solve the puzzle.
This is the third in my goal to review a short story a week during 2017. I'm already finding it instructional to consume multiple stories in different styles. Allington has skillfully created a tidy mystery salted with clues and brought to an interesting and dramatic conclusion.
If you'd like to receive the Mystery Weekly Magazine notices, go here. You can read a sample story, and if you like what you see, you can buy individual issues, or subscribe to the print or electronic magazine.
First, I'm delighted to appear on a blog in preparation for Mystery Thriller Week - novels featuring art and artifacts with Jennifer Alderson.
Blog changes: Beginning this week, I will post my blog as usual on Tuesdays, and my short story reviews Thursdays. Authors often like to share reviews of their work, and this will make it possible without including my vacation photos or personal writing news.
Anticipation - Dashed! I noticed on Facebook a building anxiety over the weekend concerning the weather. People were stocking up and planning to play hooky (if they did not have Martin Luther King Jr. Day off). A bit of snow drifted from the gray skies, but the snow storm of the decade did not materialize.
My husband dryly noted that in Colorado, "You don't forecast the weather. You report it."
So it was off to work as normal for my household. Being snowed in wouldn't have helped me tremendously, as I have the capability to work from home. If I want a day away from responsibilities to work on my fiction, I have to schedule it.
Home Improvement: On the home front, I am very excited to finally have the time and money to do some home improvements. We try to pay for big expenses in cash. At this point, I am ready to replace our ratty carpet with anything short of dirt, but we're trying to work a deal on wood flooring. Here's hoping!
Writing News: I have a lot of irons in the fire - three short stories and three novels in some stage of development. I know from past experience that I will get my projects finished. I am reasonably certain I will enjoy the success of placing some of them with publishers. But I am definitely in nose-to-the-grindstone phase right now.
Big plans. Lots of plans. We try to stay balanced, using Colorado weather forecasting as an example that things can change in a heartbeat. Or not.
I'm reporting on This and That this week: a weekend trip, a short story review, and a goals report.
My husband and I enjoyed a brief trip to New Mexico this weekend. My nephew's son was playing in a hockey tournament. As it was only a few hours drive for us, and I hadn't seen my nephew or his family in years, we braved bitter cold weather to attend. My nephew is serving in the U. S. Army, and has not been stationed nearby yet! As has been true on many recent trips, we agreed this was an area deserving a longer stay and exploration. Some day. When we have time. It'll have to go on the retirement must-do list for now.
Short Story Review
Futures Off at Closing by John H. Dirckx - Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine Jan / Feb 2017
Detective Lieutenant Cyrus Auburn and Sergeant Fritz Dollinger are called to the scene of a murder. The victim is the employee of The Aldersgate Fund, a company suspected of engaging in insider trading. A hedge fund, a soon-to-be ex-husband, financial hanky panky, a note, and a dead employee. I assumed I knew where this was going, but I was wrong.
Also wrong is the assumption that a story about finance would be dull. The action moves along swiftly as Detective Auburn puts the pieces of the puzzle together. Auburn enlists his lady friend Rochelle's assistance to decipher a note. There is a clever twist at the end I don't want to risk revealing. You'll have to read the story yourself. And you should.
My schedule has already been disrupted, and we're not even half way through the year. I ended 2016 with a burst of creative energy, and ideas for several stories. Then my sister arrived for a visit. Days later, we made the trip to New Mexico to see my nephew. And then there is the day job. From Thanksgiving through half of January is typically slow for us. Not this year. I am determined to get back on track, while ideas for new stories are still fresh in my mind. I'm wondering how other folks maintain their writing schedules in the midst of life's obligations.
One of my 2017 goals is to read and review one short story a week. That's only 52 short stories a year. I should be able to accomplish this, and experience entertainment and enlightenment along the way!
To begin this project, I read Chin Yong-Yun Stays at Home by S. J. Rozan, in the January/February 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The setting is modern-day Chinatown in New York City. Chin Yong-Yun is an eldery widow who solves mysteries while her daughter goes off to work as a detective. As the title states, she operates from her apartment for the entirety of this "case." Despite the static location, the story is lively. The characters are distictive and preciesly described, as in this instance:
"Young Lo Tau lifted his teacup to his lips, though I could tell he did not care for my tea but was drinking out of politeness. He was also using the respectful form of address in calling me "Tai-Tai." In view of all these attempts at proper behavior I decided to overlook his disrespect of his mother in his earlier statement."
Lo Tau calls his mother crazy for dragging a suitcase with her everywhere, claiming it contains her valuables. Does it? Is she risking a mugging at the hands of the local thugs? The request for assistance by Lo Tau in dealing with his mother leads to several other mysteries and problems, all of which Chin Yong-Yun is perfectly capable to handle.
This was a delightful story, fun to read, with an interesting puzzle to solve. A nice way to start the new year.
Subscribe to this blog: