Tuesday, January 14, 2020


Only twelve hours late, I finally have made it to my desk. As the dear Robbie Burns said so wisely, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley." I have been agley since yesterday, but never far from my mind was the post for this propitious day. Suffice it to say I am trying to figure out how to connect this new Blog to my new web page, www.nancyeturner.com , and having no luck at all.

One of the questions I am asked most often is a version of "where do you get your ideas?" and though I'm tempted to say, "there's this magic tree in my yard," I know it is a genuine question, sometimes asked by the most complementary readers. Here in a nutshell is the inspiration for the beginning of any novel.

"What if . . . ?" That's it. That's the whole answer. What if you lived back then? What if you'd never seen a tree that wasn't crooked and thorny, or a cornfield, or a grassy lawn, or a debutante ball, but you'd read about them and dreamed of lives lived in books and novels? What if everything you knew about the world did not apply once you stepped foot out of Territorial Arizona and into a more "civilized" part of the country? What if you found a ticket out?

Every character needs a complication, and Mary Pearl has many, but this one came to me almost by accident: What if a young lady was so stunningly beautiful that moving about in the real world became a hassle? Surrounded by family, she's confident, but in a world where her very face is a stumbling block to relationships, she is at wit's end all the time. It's a play on a character who is  incredibly rich, and therefore doesn't trust anyone who wants to befriend them.

I found a photo of an actress from the early 1900's named Elsie Ferguson. It's not a glamour-riven name by any means, but her face! I could imagine that if a student in the same photography class as she were so smitten with her looks, and if he got too enthusiastic in his coloring so that he applied too much lip rouge and eye shadow, he could change the portrait and slander her character even if she were the most virtuous person at the school. This is the photo of Elsie Ferguson, who became the model and inspiration for Mary Pearl Prine, a girl whose face could break a heart or start a war, a Helen of Troy from Arizona, trying to learn painting and photography in an art class in Wheaton College.  (Credit: "Klimbim" colorized the portrait.)

This novel has been one I wanted to write but faced many uphill battles in doing so. My husband suffered a traumatic brain injury two years ago, and life became challenging in ways I could never have imagined. My "what if" had never gone down that path. Our lives gang agley never to be the same. Time, the Veteran's Administration doctors, and friends old and new, helped us both find strength, healing, and light at the end of that terrible tunnel. In life as in photography, LIGHT CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Bright Sun, Icy Wind

It has been four years since we moved here. We knew it would be an adjustment to move from Tucson to the White Mountains of Arizona, an elevation change from 2,300 feet above sea level to 7,000. For a girl who grew up in either blistering hot Scottsdale and milder Anaheim, CA, quite a change, indeed.

If the sun were shining like this in Tucson, or in the suburbs around Phoenix, it would melt your mascara and give you second degree burns when you sit on a seatbelt while getting in the car. I have friends from upstate New York and Minnesota, who have told me they don't even run an air conditioner in Phoenix, because they'd grown up in snow and ice and never wanted to be cold again. I. Would. Die.

There came a day for me when I swore I never wanted to be hot again. We moved from Northern Arizona to Phoenix in July. From Phoenix to Tucson in August. I mean, if you're going to expire from heat exhaustion, make it obvious. It just naturally falls that we'd move to Pinetop in December, in three feet of snow. The kind of wet, sloppy, but deep snow on this clayey, gumbo soil that will suck down the tires of the moving van and cause them to have to call a tow truck. It's how we move, my Honey and I.

I love winter. When we used to ski - yes, ski - I mean relentlessly checking base levels, buying season lift tickets for a family of four, critically judging the right amount of fresh powder, and practicing slalom over a railroad tie in the back yard in tennis shoes - kind of skiing, my happiest times were on a mountain top, with the wind in my face and a cap of breath-ice forming on my face mask. There were some falls, too. One trip to Purgatory for Christmas where one of the kids got a stomach bug (yes, that kind) in the car on the way up, and then skied two days, so the other kid could get it on the way home. But still, still with that going on, our family's best times together were on skis. There were no teams to cheer, no football score, broken bones or tennis rackets, no wretched bermuda grass to stand in, for me no palpitating heart or red-faced sweating while guzzling water and feeling faint. Skiing was all fun and cocoa and oversized hamburgers and still staying a size eight, because downhill takes more energy than you'd ever imagine. It wasn't about playing a sport, it was about us. We were a unit, a family of skiers, intent on snow and lifts and black diamonds. Oh, what a rush it was.

It was a great shock to me the last time we went altogether because I was searching for the kids - you always got separated on the way down back then, and never worried about anyone coming to harm - and when I picked out a couple of pre-teenaged snow suits and tassel-y Nordic hats, I sensed something was very wrong. That jacket was not my son's. And wait, that hat was orange, not red on my daughter's blond hair. The two kids turned around just as my real offspring came shooshing up, spraying me with rooster tails of snow from their perfectly choreographed side-by-side slaloms. Mine were both taller than me and 18 and 20 years old. Well, how ever did that happen? The little ski bunnies I was looking for were grown. The young strangers looked at me as if I'd just been let out for the day and my real kids laughed their heads off.  It was 1998, and I felt as if a gong sounded.

There have been many miles between then and now, and reasons to think about pulling stakes and moving on. The year before we came here, we made no less than five offers on five different homes - all the sort of desperate fixer uppers that would make a good TV show. Each and every time, something came along and pulled the rug out from under the deal. After the fifth one, we gave up. Went to spend the summer at our Lakeside cabin, and promised each other never again will we talk of square footage or loans or stucco repair.

John was playing golf, and one of my favorite things to do when he's golfing is to take my Muse out to lunch, where she and I can think about writing and books, and listen to the wind in the tall pine trees. That day, the restaurant I chose had an hour's wait for lunch, so I drove through a Taco Bell and took my taco and drove down an unfamiliar road. Land For Sale. Big lot. Pines and oaks. "Say nothing," Musette whispered. But. . . Honey asked me where I'd had lunch, then wanted to see the land. I'll tell more about the process in another article, but suffice it to say, we sold the cabin and the house in Tucson in less than three weeks, closed on the land in eight days, and got a building permit the next day. So much for five failed attempts to move in Tucson. Sometimes I feel the touch of Divine Intervention in my life, and this was one of those times.

The mountains have always brought me joy. Even with snow, and cold, and hats and gloves. Sadly, after crossing the tips of my skis and doing a header on solid ice which played havoc with some discs in my neck, and my Honey being in a bad motorcycle wreck and needing two bionic knees, we don't ski any more. Today the wind coming off the snow at about 25 miles an hour cuts through my coat and gloves. It's January. The snow feels bitter, and biting, and cloistering. Musette is happy - writing time, reading time, snuggling time. No longer a size eight and don't much care. "Polar bears!" the Muse snickers. Today at the Taco Bell, sun-burned skiers with runny noses and goggles crooked over their Nordic hats waited in line in front of me. "Good powder?" I ask. "Seventy inch base, couple inches of light on top." he answered. "Perfect," I said with a smile. Good memories swirled around me as I hurried to my car. I love living on the mountain, but this is a day for an extra pot of coffee with my tacos.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Happy New Book Year

Every author has a rhythm, my agent once said. Mine happens to be that
about every three or four years, a new book is born. What you can't know behind the scenes, is that after every novel, I go through a separation and mourning period of about six months, in which I miss my characters so deeply it feels as if I've lost family members. Then there is another six months of just cruising, albeit at a lower level than I was during the writing process, during which I make quilts, clean house, (my goodness where did all that laundry and dog hair come from!?!?!) and make tamales or cherry pies for the freezer. I spend that time wondering why I never got anything done for the last year and a half, too.

Then at last, like a crocus sending up a tenuous shoot, the Muse awakens, and research books are purchased, trips to locations are planned. Sometimes Le Musette buys books with my credit card that I do not remember authorizing, and I find that she had something up her sleeve the whole time. I go willingly down the rabbit hole, drinking the mystery liquid in the bottle, delving for details and unsung heroes in history.

After another six months, a character will timidly open a door and peek into my subconscious, and if I allow it in, another, then another will show up. I know the cast is not complete, and some are rejected outright, but much like the story in the movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas," which plays up the creative process behind Charles Dickens's "Christmas Carol," gradually all the actors learn their lines, assume their places, and start playing out scenes. Driving becomes hazardous. My cooking becomes simplistic and meals often over-cooked. My conversations are sketchy at best, because while it may look as if I'm listening to someone I'm hearing Resolute hunting for Cullah in the woods, calling his name, and it is darn difficult to care much about someone else's crafting or leaky roof when my hunky hero is captured by soldiers and dragged away chained to a cart. A long speech or a boring movie is fertile ground for scheming villains to skulk through my mind.

Writing begins. Not tentatively, for unlike some authors, I seem to find an opening line which is the hook from which all else hangs, and while the entire book may be written and rewritten from beginning to end five to eight times, the first paragraph always remains. And then my Muse soars to higher altitudes where I am no longer in control, and she's forever darting right and left, pursuing a heroine's path, ripping out scenes where actions stall or go all wrong. This process can take two to three years because it is heavy with research. And then there's the glacial speed of modern publishing. Most recently I sent LIGHT CHANGES EVERYTHING to my editor, who promised to get back to me in eight weeks. So, sixteen weeks later I sent her a couple of emails. A phone call. Another. And another. Finally I got an email from her boss telling me she was no longer with the company and they'd assign me another editor soon - in six to ten weeks.

Then there are cuts, and deadlines, and the new editor also jumps ship for some other company. And the newer new editor doesn't like this change that the previous one did, and then she's gone, too. So the newest new editor has been handed something she didn't ask for but has to complete, and we begin - cut this sentence, cut this paragraph - chop this here, and that there. See, I've never been accused of writing anything too short. The manuscript for Resolute was a good 835 pages. But then when all is ready it's wait another six months for printing, cover art, and the all powerful marketing people to have "the" meeting. A date is set. And I sulk, depressed, because we're already into the plummet from the high, unsure of the result, unable to read it even one more time, unable to conceive that anyone on earth will like it. Pure misery.

Things begin to change. Reviews are good. No, great. We have a book. It feels out of control, like letting your sixteen year old drive alone for the first time. Too raw, too soon, too nebulous and untried. Naughty Musette smirks at me and says, "see? I told you," then she takes long walks and longer naps. If I try to argue she goes in the kitchen and makes tamales.