Archive | My Books

New Book Coming?

News!

The Camera’s Eye, a new manuscript

is

Many thanks to Chanticleer Reviews for their support of Indie authors. Hawkins Lane and Home Fires both won first in category awards in 2016 and 2014 respectively. Do check out their great book review site at #CAC17, #SeriousAuthors, #SomersetShortlister, and Twitter account @ChantiReviews. 

This manuscript was also a finalist for the William Faulkner Wisdom Award in 2015.

Here’s the blurb

A rock through the window ends the peaceful existence photographer, Veronica Lorimore, and attorney, Charlotte McAllister, have sought on an island in the Puget Sound. Faced with the disinterest of the local police, they explore possible culprits, ranging from a vagrant boy known to break into empty houses, criminals Charlotte has put away as prosecuting attorney, and islanders angered by Veronica’s recently published photo book. Their search leads to members of a local church group that believes they are lesbians—a belief that echoes, for Veronica, that of her own estranged children’ accusation—and to a boy Charlotte had removed from his addicted mother. The discovery that Veronica’s daughter is the youth group’s leader shifts the search to her own troubled past. The attacks continue and worsen, leading to her missing son, and impending discovery panics their young attacker, leading to tragedy and profound rethinking by all those involved.

Let’s hope it finds a publisher soon!

Don’t Miss Indie Author Day!

Inviting you to

self-e_indieauthorday_logo_tshirt-01-e1462823856596

Saturday, October 8

11AM PDT, 2PM EDT

Libraries across the nation will join in a webcast introducing their local indie authors (authors who self-publish or publish through small presses)

I will be joining authors from the Skagit Valley on the Mount Vernon Library panel

Click here for the link

For those of you who aren’t writers and so are not totally immersed in the publishing revolution, here’s your introduction to the life of today’s authors. For those of you who are, here’s a national forum of the state of the art today. Most of the panel, in Mount Vernon at least, will be self-published authors, but I will speak about the role small presses play in the revolution. Do join us for the webcast.

 

All Book covers

All Book covers

 

 

Another Kudo for HOME FIRES

HOME FIRES, Judith Kirscht's third published novel

HOME FIRES, a finalist for both the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s Nancy Pearl Award and Readers Favorite Realistic Fiction award last year, has won first place in Contemporary Fiction for Chanticleer Review’s Somerset Award.  This makes it a finalist for Chanticleer’s Grand Prize. Winner will be announced at Chanticleer’s Award Banquet on September 29th.

Ellwood Mesa 04

To refresh your memory, HOME FIRES, set on the Santa Barbara Coast, is the story of Myra Benning, whose idyllic life collapses when she learns of her husband, Derek’s, infidelities. Her decisions carry her into the murky underbelly of the Benning family where she is no longer sure who is guilty of what.

And here are a few snippets of what others have said about it.

 HOME FIRES is for you if you like  

 Stories that “shine a light on real things that matter”

                                                                              Kristen Nathan, Chicago Literati. 12/17/13

 Stories that “even when I wasn’t reading … was on my mind.”

                                                                              Mary Trimble, author, 12/16/13

 Stories that are deal with difficult problems but are “neither depressing nor trying to push an agenda” and are “difficult to put down.”

                                                                              Bruce Whitmore, reader, 11.29/13

 Women characters who “… take[s] the whole situation by the reins and deals with it head on rather than turning a blind eye.”

                                                                              Kristen Nathan, Chicago Literati. 12/17/13

 Stories that have you “ laughing, crying and feeling like I was there with the family.”

                                                                              Mairi Campbell, author, 11/06/13

 Stories that lose you in another world. “Judith has an amazing way of bringing not only the characters to life for the reader but a way of pulling the reader in and becoming part of the surroundings.”

                                                                              Mairi Campbell, author, 11/05/13.

 I invite you to take a look.

Order it at your local bookstore find it on-line at Barnes & Noble or Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Home-Fires-Judith-Kirscht/dp/161469043X/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?ie=UTF8&qid=1388433241&sr=8-1&keywords=Judith+Kirscht

 

Bringing HAWKINS LANE Alive

Hawkins Lane by Judith Kirscht 

I’m going to be reading from and discussing HAWKINS LANE at Village Books in Bellingham on Sunday August 30th (4PM for those of you who are local), so am considering how best to bring the story alive with just a few snippets.

 I’ve summed up HAWKINS LANE in a number of ways. It’s a story of love gone wrong, of the power of the past to trigger tension, conflict and tragedy. But also the story of a man, wife, and child bonded in their love of the Cascades, of a family’s struggle to overcome stigma born in the past. When I read the reviews of others, it’s clear every reader creates his or her own story. I can only try to interest all of these.

 

Some connect with characters first

 OPENING 1981 in a Bellingham courtroom.

 Their father rose. The tall, narrow man who should have been in a checked wool shirt and boots looked naked in blue prison garb. His neck gaveltoo long. …

“We find the defendant, Amos Hawkins, guilty of murder in the first degree.”

Ned reached for Billy as he lunged, and together he and his mother held him fast as a murmur of satisfaction rose from the surrounding crowd.

“Time we saw the end of the likes of you!” a man behind them yelled.

 1992 NED

Ned Hawkins … stepped into McKenzie Crossing’s main street. A pair of teenage girls jumped away and made a wide circle around him. … He headed for the old logging trails above town, his daily escape the chronic mid-week feeling of being trapped in his life. … He’d just cut off the trail toward the creek when he heard the whistle of a fishing line cutting the air. He stopped, then approached the water ahead carefully, expecting to find his brother, who he didn’t particularly want to see.

 

Others with action

[Ned and Erica’s daughter, Bonnie, is missing]

Rainy mountainsHe switched frequencies on his radio and called the ranger station. Jake had radioed in; they’d found nothing, so far. He’d called for more crews and volunteers from town. His crew was searching over on Coyote Ridge now. Would Bonnie have trusted Duchess to take her across that scree-strewn precipice? Yes. She would; she considered it as much a part of her wilderness as the wooded paths, and Duchess had carried her through it since she was six. But it wasn’t hers or theirs and never had been. It didn’t belong to any human, whether they put their name on a deed or not. They’d taught her that, too, hadn’t they? Taught her respect? Surely she’d learned it; she’d gone with them on searches like this one after campers who had done any number of stupid things.

He radioed Erica the news. She’d met the rangers from one of the teams and filled them in on Ned’s location. A peculiar burst of elation lifted him. He and Erica were in a place they hadn’t been since Erica’s accident changed the chemistry of their lives. Bonnie had shaken them loose. And if they didn’t find her? He gunned the truck, racing away from the thought. He was impatient with the number of camps and with his own hope of finding her down here.

But he forced himself to stay the course, aware of the hours passing. Like any other search, he kept telling himself, like any other. And like any other, the teams would have to give it up at dusk and wait for the sunrise. They’d insisted Bonnie carry a radio, but when he’d tried her frequency, he got only static. Had she put it on yet, this morning? He had no idea. Did the static mean it was open and not receiving or broken?

 And some want to become absorbed in place.

 The rhythm of their stroking carried them to a stream-carved gorge, and [Ned]e led [Erica] along its edge … until he came to a tree-roofed Snow lanelane. It was silent as a church. Together they stroked its length, then stood in the quiet, looking out across the untrammeled expanse of snow, then down the mountain at the glitter of sun off distant ponds. She laughed and gave a push that sent her out into the untouched blanket then turned down the slope.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Whatever your pleasure, I hope you will come, if you live in the area. I’m looking forward to talking to readers of all descriptions.

Entering the Atomic Age

 

In my last blog, I delved into the magic of storytelling–or more specifically, the birth of stories, a subject that came up in my interview with Liz Adair. I promised to share the memoir that came to me in an afternoon, the first story I wrote. The drawings, which i’m embarrased to claim, are a child’s memory.

Here it is

 

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Stagg Field, 1943

 

Every day as I grew up, the Stagg Field wall stretched its length between me and school, between me and home, between me and anywhere. Across the street from the old stadium was the campus backside, a line of gothic stone enfolding and protecting. From the front it was the

UC campus 1

UC campus 1

University of Chicago, set back a pace from the city by the broad green ribbon of the Midway, insulated by parks at either end. One that side, Rockefeller Chapel rose like a crown jewel; our parents took us up into the bell tower, sometimes, on Sunday, but we lived around back, near the field.

In the summer that wall blinding; no tree or shrub broke the glare of stone, concrete, and more stone, and as you looked down its length you could see the heat waves dancing before you pitched through the prickly, airless space. In the winter it was a wind tunnel, roofed by the dirty Chicago sky. It was an empty place, a scar where the University cut herself off from her athletic past.

P1010539

And it was always there. Like a swimmer going under, I’d duck my head for the four times daily trip. Sometimes I was a sea captain, fighting the gales around Cape Horn, or a gallant child-hero dragging my brother safely through arctic wastes; sometimes I was an Arab driving a caravan toward an oasis. But more often I watched my feet, absorbed their rhythm as they matched their monotony to the monotony of the stone beside me, to the steady procession of cracks beneath me, and gave myself into a trance.

When I surfaced at Ellis Avenue, the homeward end, the gray towers ended too. Beyond Ellis was the university backyard, a litter of mismatched outbuildings where, among experiments and service plants, the faculty raised its young. Catty corner from the field was a squat yellow brick box with a Parthenon-like entry stuck to the front, facing campus. They kept sheep behind it. Down the street, if it was summer and the windows were open, you could hold your ears and watch black printing presses screech and clang, and listen to the men shouting to each other over the din. Behind that, surrounded by small buildings that gave off strange smells, the five-story chimney of the heating plant rose to mark the block. Beyond that was our alley.

On the front, the row of six-flats facing Drexel looked like any other row of Chicago six-flats, but in back, the three-story spider web of banisters, porches, and stairways overlooked chicken coops—university chicken coops. We woke to roosters every day, and if you walked with your ear to the board fence, a world of barnyard smells and noises rippled by. Except for that, it was a Chicago alley; we had Dominic, the vegetable man, who gave rides, and a milkman with a horse-drawn wagon, who didn’t—so you had to sneak. An ice cream truck, a monkey-grinder man, an accordion player, a knife sharpener, a brush peddler, a rag man–almost anyone might come through and there was an alley sonar for new arrivals. It signaled when the nose of a dump truck appeared at the end of the alley, inching its way between board fence and telephone poles, leaving mountains of coal to climb.

Between visits, we walked fences, played hide and seek in the web of porches, held secret meetings behind furnaces in dark basements, and tangled in wash lines. If you dropped a ball from a third floor porch, and you aimed right and didn’t hit a crack, it would bounce far enough for a friend leaning out from a second floor porch to catch, if her mother didn’t see her.

Then the fathers came home for dinner and everyone went in. The din that traveled up and down the airshafts faded, and it felt like the place under the carillon where there is a seal that no one steps on. “Crescat Scientia Vita Excolatur;” “Let Knowledge Grow, Life Will be Enriched.” My father sat and thought, and no one interrupted, even for the salt. Then all of a sudden he’d look up. “Al Smith was right,” he’d say. “Do you know who Al Smith was?” And he’d tell the story in a way that made Al’s rightness burn through. Another time it would be, “The Union generals were bums.” And he’d tell about Grant’s drinking or McClellan’s cowardice, even though McClellan was supposed to be a relative of ours. Other days he’d say nothing from the beginning of the meal to the end, and his face and eyes would shift and strain with inward rage—at ritual used to raise emotions and bind people to narrow visions—at failure to acknowledge freedom of the intellect to rise above passion, to search for truth. We watched and knew, for he was likely to turn to us, pare us to our rational bones to discover whether we were becoming what we were to be. He’d ask for answers then, for evidence, and I never had any. My alley self shrunk up or slipped away and left me stranded, unknowing everything I knew. There was no barnyard behind the alley fence; there was research.

And as I made my daily journey down Stagg Field’s length, I became more and more aware of those gothic towers rising across the street.

Hull Gate & pond

Hull Gate & pond

Once I’d made a dash for Hull Gate, the entrance to the quadrangles, aiming for the pond inside as though I owned the place. The dark water under the lily pads hid goldfish and turtles, which you could see if you sat very still on the stone bridge. I knew every alcove where you echoed, exactly how much the bottoms of your feet hurt when you jumped from each wide stone balustrade, which ones you could run down and which you couldn’t. I knew in which square you could find shouting sun and where the shade was very old and shivery. There was a tiny lovely chapel to peek into, but it was always very sad. I knew the hot places in the sidewalk where you could warm your undersides even as the cold bit your fingers. The important question then was deciding whether Mitchel Fountain was better spouting water in summer or covered for winter when you could run up its wooden roof, the echoes of your feet making all the surrounding spires take note.

But even then the sound faded and left the quiet bigger than before; the quadrangles again became scenic easements for the towers of the mind. Botany Pond was there for science.

P1010536So even then I ran back through the gate, away from those encircling expectancies, to the comfortable monotony of the unwanted field. There was a door in the wall, a gigantic, double-leaved iron-hasped castle door that give birth in its midriff, like a laugh, to a little door. On rare days the shell would condescend a peek—the little door would be open. It was the peephole in a giant shadow box, granting a glimpse of a magic world. All I remember were joggers running the track, football teams from other places practicing, but I’d watch spellbound until the empty bleachers shrunk the activity to silliness. Bleachers are usually empty, but these had the dusty sadness of a face no one wants anymore, and I think the field was grateful for that human flurry even as it reduced it to insignificance.

Bits of memory jumped about in my mind, of our alley packed with cars, the din of horns and noisemakers, raccoon coats and pennants, and sitting in a third floor window watching the scoreboard through someone’s binoculars. I’m told I can have no such memory, that the University of Chicago stopped playing football before I was born—but it’s a fitting memory. What could I substitute? The name of Amos Alonzo Stagg? We used to roll it off our tongues, but I saw him once, and he was an old man—little and very wrinkled. A few stale football songs rattling around coffee houses? Some maroon and white football uniforms stolen for Halloween parties? The human sized door was usually closed and my four-times-daily walk a trudge—so I kept the memory.

One morning Pearl Harbor was bombed. We woke to find the adult world steamrolled, trying to shake out, to reorient. The smudgy chalk lines of everyday were wiped away and replaced by pen and ink. The railroads brought long unseen cousins and uncles to our house, all in uniform, pressed, with gold braid and shiny buttons, on their way to war. The living room where my father read was filled with students, gloriously transformed into officers, and then they were gone too. Life acquired new habits—ration stamps, paper drives and tinfoil balls. And songs. Hitler’s voice came over the short-wave, along with German voices singing as they marched—and we learned songs to match theirs. And every Saturday afternoon at the Frolic theater, newsreels showed jackboots marching through the silent streets of Europe.

Then a map went up on the dining room wall so the war could teach us our geography, and the Chicago Tribune produced endless words. And we learned to focus beyond, to comment, to evaluate, to judge. Little, after all, was different.

Except Stagg Field. Stagg Field acquired a mysterious life. How did we know? A child always knows when an adult is hiding something behind his back. Her walls were suddenly too stiff, her doors too closed; there was too much of the wrong kind of quiet—she was no longer empty; she was shut. Every passing school child knew something was going on in Stagg Field, and knew with equal certainty that it was “secret war work.” Every fedora pulled too low became a German, every overcoat too long a Jap, and the comings and goings at the West end of the field inspired new plots daily. The stories were ours, for our entertainment, to liven up the trudge along the wall.

But then one day the castle doors themselves began to open. Slowly. With great complaint. And when they were all the way open, they revealed two Sunshine Laundry trucks. Beside each truck stood a guard with a tommygun. Someone had stolen our spy thriller and turned it into a Marx Brothers comedy. In the days that followed, our nostrils and skins picked up the tension. We stopped telling spy stories.

One day when peeked through the fence to see the sheep behind the yellow brick corner building, I saw an armed guard instead of sheep. When my brother and I came back an hour later, on our way back to school, we stopped before we got to the corner because we couldn’t hear the street. It was missing. Instead we heard marching feet—jackboots come to Ellis Avenue. We crept forward and watched the squad of men that marched back and forth in the street that had taken cover. We ran. By the time we returned from school it was over—it happened and unhappened.

No one would—or could—explain. It was a time of odd silences, of breaks and pauses in adult sentences. So it remained suspended in memory for two years, until I stood looking down at the evening paper and understood.

 

Mushroom cloud

Mushroom cloud

“Fifty thousand dead” “the scientists at the University of Chicago have succeeded”  “the war is over”  “splitting of the atom” “ten thousand dead” “heralds a new age” “Hiroshima” “under the decaying stands of an abandonned football fiels” “death toll” “breakthrough”

Words were blown free, subjects could not find predicates my mind could embrace. If the scientists had fathered fission who had fathered death? For a few days the university herself seemed shaken, turned and looked behind her aghast. At the dinner table, my father said nothing. His face was not abstracted; it was gray.

But it was atomic fission, not the bomb, that was born under the stands that day, and the soldiers were a suicide squad, not the war come home. The towers pulled themselves together and turned around again. “Science must be free and pure, and is in no way liable for the uses men find for its discoveries.” I don’t remember my father saying that; I remember the words as coming from the air we breathed, from the towers themselves, the sound of a congregation chanting its creed.

Sometimes my father stared at the table, but we were of the faith. When it came my turn, I walked the aisle of Rockefeller Chapel and received my confirmation. It’s nice to be ennobled. The dirty belching mill town where I grew up has felt its touch. Picasso’s beast spreads its

Mushroom Cloud

Mushroom Cloud

wings where I remember pawnshops; Alex Calder’s ‘Flamingo’ has lighted in a place I was not allowed to go; seasons are marked by Chagal’s mosaic instead of by the tone of the lake wind. Not long ago the workers of the mills and slaughterhouses, Sandburg’s “hog butchers of the world,” were transformed into Miro’s peasant, pitchfork pointed to the sky. I like to think I’m a part of that, but I know better. I received my monument twenty years after that December noon, when the university ordered the West Stands torn down and commissioned a monument to symbolize science’s gift to the world that day. Henry Moore gave us a mushroom cloud—set in stone. I can still feel the faculty’s shock, my father’s rage at that choice of symbol. They tore down the rest of the field and built a library that towers above that little ball of stone, but it doesn’t change anything. It is still mine, and I’m still standing there where the old field opened her shabby arms and received that bastard child.

 

 

The Magic of Storytelling

 

magic lamp

magic lamp

In my recent interview with author, Liz Adair, I talked about the origin of stories, and I found myself thinking about its magical qualities. Why, when I sat down to write a story for the first time, did a childhood experience emerge full blown in an afternoon? Where did it come from? What gave it form? Why did a door closed to me for thirty years burst open to let it forth? Why that experience?

 Most writers today don’t talk about their Muse, though the word does express the mystery of the experience I describe above. The question demands a rational answer to a process that isn’t rational, so it must always fail. It apparently emerged from my unconscious, but we don’t, as a rule, gain access to our unconscious by any willful act. And why that story? By hindsight, looking at it, I’d say the experience gives form to my ambivalence about the academic world I grew up in. I witnessed, at ten, the birth of the atomic age, the event that would change the world, shape my adulthood—the greatest scientific breakthrough of the century, but I learned the meaning of that day from the mushroom cloud on the front page of the newspaper. Hiroshima. The adults around me struggled through shock for a response and in the end proclaimed: “Science searches for Truth. We’re not responsible for the uses men put it to.” But my father’s face was gray.

 I can also see that that deep seated conflict shaped my life—and my writing. I lived on the fringes of universities most of my life—as child, student, wife, parent, temporary faculty—without embracing it. I have a deep respect for the education it gave me, but I abhor its arrogance; I love ideas, but I’m no scholar. Indeed, the very experience I describe here gave voice to the person academia suppressed. So the story tells me a lot about myself.

 The story I wrote that afternoon, “Stagg Field, 1943,” is non-fiction, but for me the process of fiction is not that much different. The magic is always its appearance, the ability of the unconscious to give form to such emotional truths in a form they can be shared.

 Next week I’ll share it with you.

magoc book

magoc book

HAWKINS LANE – Book Giveaway Contest

Get a Free Copy Today!

Hawkins Lane by Judith Kirscht

 

 

Here’s the deal for my latest book giveaway contest

Be the first to get a free paperback copy of HAWKINS LANE!  Starting Friday, July 31st at at midnight,  I will be giving away five copies of the novel through Goodreads. To get yours, click the widget below. The offer lasts for one week (through August 7th, but only the first five entries will receive books.) Get yours now!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Hawkins Lane by Judith Kirscht

Hawkins Lane

by Judith Kirscht

Giveaway ends August 07, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

HAWKINS LANE: What kind of Fiction?

HL cover 5

I’ve always envied authors who have no trouble answering that question–it’s a romance, a mystery, a thriller, a western … HAWKINS LANE is all of those and none of them. It doesn’t fit the conventions of any of those genre. It’s fiction. General, contemporary, realistic, mainstream fiction. Not very helpful, so let me give you a taste, and you can name the flavor.

Hawkins Lane by Judith Kirscht

 HAWKING LANE is a story of love gone wrong. So it has romance. It is set in the Cascades of Washington State, so it is regional. It also has a possible murder and a hair raising search for a lost child, so it is both mystery and thriller. All of those are true, but at its core, it is about the effect of the past on our relationships. Still, none of those descriptions captivates–only opening a book can do that.

 So here are some snippets from the opening chapter:gavel

 Their father rose. The tall, narrow man who should have been in a checked wool shirt and boots looked naked in blue prison garb. His neck too long. …

“We find the defendant, Amos Hawkins, guilty of murder in the first degree.”

Ned reached for Billy as he lunged, and together he and his mother held him fast as a murmur of satisfaction rose from the surrounding crowd.

“Time we saw the end of the likes of you!” a man behind them yelled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cascades Ned Hawkins … stepped into McKenzie Crossing’s main street. A pair of teenage girls jumped away and made a wide circle around him. … He headed for the old logging trails above town, his daily escape the chronic mid-week feeling of being trapped in his life. … He’d just cut off the trail toward the creek when he heard the whistle of a fishing line cutting the air. He stopped, then approached the water ahead carefully, expecting to find his brother, who he didn’t particularly want to see.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 “The Hawkins live down there.” [Ned] pointed to the lowland roofs. “…. My father worked in the mill, when he was sober.” He stopped, then decided to let her think the man was dead. She’d find out differently soon enough, but it would give him a few more moments to fill his chest with air.

 

That’s a taste of the opening love story, but there are more elements in the story. For me, and for many of my readers, place is a central character. To see more about the importance of place, see my earlier blog, “HAWKINS LANE and the Importance of Place.”

Cascades 2

 

HAWKINS LANE IN PRINT

For those of you who want a book to hold in your hand, flip back and forth, mark up, etc. HAWKINS LANE is in print. You’ll fine in by order at your local bookstore or on Amazon.

Hawkins Lane Cover

And here is a taste of the latest review; this on by Chanticleer Reviews

An engrossing story of the influence of family in our lives, and of the struggle by two people to triumph over tragedy. You’ll be captivated from the first page!…Hawkins Lane is an excellent and ultimately redemptive story about the heart-wrenching tragedies a family can survive, and about the healing powers of nature and friendship. The characters and the story will linger long after the last page is read.

For the complete review click here.

And if you’ve missed the posting of other reviews, you’ll find them at the Amazon site. Here is a taste of those.

Kristin Nathan, Chicago Literati
Family is a complicated thing. …. Now, try including a crippling accident, an affair, and a potential murder into the mix, and imagine trying to survive as a close knit group. … Judith Kirscht takes the reader through this journey … She brings to life tough scenarios that make one question relationships with the people we’re born into loving. Questions of forgiveness, self-acceptance, and looking past addictions.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Followers of my website and blogs know that each of the places I’ve lived has produced a novel. Here is the one my Washington friends have been waiting for. HAWKINS LANE is set in a fictional town in the magnificent North Cascades National Forest.

Cascades peakEagleRainy mountains

 

The Creation of Hawkins Lane

 

In my recent interview with author, Liz Adair, I said that HAWKINS LANE began with the image I woke with, one morning, of a child in a wooded lane sensing that the trees had taken everything up into their boughs, leaving the lane untouched.

 

Hawkins Lane Cover

 

Images are not stories, but they raise a host of unanswered questions. Who is the child? Where? What had the trees swept up? Where is her family? My writers’ friends who struggled through early drafts know that the story once started with those questions. I named the child Bonnie and felt her aloneness. Her father, a forest ranger, has refused to take her along on his tour of the upland camps; her once-upon-a-time loving mother is no more. She has changed radically. The child has seen something in the lane that has terrified her and she runs away. What?

 It’s not so unusual to begin a story with a final scene, but I always assumed the author who made such a decision already knew the answer to that question. I didn’t. Nor did I know the father and mother or how the family came to this. I had an isolated family in the mountains—the Cascades—and a husband and wife to whom something tragic had happened, terrifying the child.

 As soon as I began to create Ned, I recognized him. I don’t, and won’t, analyze why that is, for I’ve learned such analysis can tie Ned to some real person in my past and chain the story. He is who he is, no one else. He’s part of an isolated mountain family and he is haunted by its past—a murder’s son. He’s a fatalist, resigned to his fate. Until he meets a woman on a mountain stream.

 Now I know it’s a love story. As I create Erica, and again, I know her, I know Ned will reject her as inaccessible to his social class. He’s not for her. But it’s clear they both love the mountains, and the mountains become the unifying theme—their overwhelming presence not only shapes their lives, but gives perspective to their trials.

 Now the story has legs and moves without me. The characters have enough substance to come alive and act. The creation of secondary characters is just plain fun. I love them. They seem to bounce into existence full blown, language and all, carrying histories. I think they come so easily because they don’t carry the responsibility for the story and no one asks whether they are autobiographical. They are free spirits.

 The story of the child has now been left behind, and early efforts to keep it as a prologue didn’t work. The story isn’t the child’s now; it’s her parents, but the questions remain. What happened in the lane and how did Ned and Erica come to the point where their child runs away in terror?

 So it is a love headed for trouble. Theirs is a deep love and their love of the mountains gives it purpose. They rescue each other, and their sense of owing their lives to each other is both the beauty and the hazard, for their fear of losing each other triggers Ned’s sense of inevitable doom and Erica’s rebellion—traits born of their pasts. Both of them begin to react in ways I know spell trouble. In Erica’s case, I stopped writing for a week or so because I wanted to stop her and knew doing so would collapse the story. An author may interfere—a cardinal rule of storytelling. So I didn’t return to the book until I could let her do what she was going to do, and it led to situations I did not plan and didn’t know how she would emerge. She had to work herself out of them.

 And so we arrive at the mother much changed, the frightened child, and the father who took off without her for the upper camps. How the characters arrived there without my direction is a mystery; in some way that initial destination held, drawing them toward it. Perhaps those original images have a greater power than we know. The story could have wandered off somewhere else. It didn’t, and the fact that it was faithful to that image gives a jolt of satisfaction. My first writing coach argued that a good story will hold up under revision, and I suspect that initial image gives a form that holds. For I assure you, this story has had more than its share of revising.

As my critique group will attest, I changed the order of the telling over and over then finally, still dissatisfied, I put it on the back burner while I worked on Home Fires. When I returned to it I went back to the order of the first draft, settling for an opening that was slower than i likedStill frustrated, I described my problem to writer friend, Patricia Bloom, who instantly provided me with the opening. The message? The creation of story is a very personal act, but its completion depends on others–thank heavens for writer and reader friends.

 For the answer to that initial question—what happened in the lane—you’ll have to read the book.

HAWKINS LANE and the Power of Place

 

How important is place to a story? Do you skip all description or do you want to be swept into the jungle, the dessert, the city street, the cottage by the sea? For the writer, creating a place that comes alive as a character rather than detail to be skipped over is a challenge, but for me place is critical to both character and action.

Hawkins Lane Cover

 For Northwesterners, the beauty of the surrounding wilderness, where HAWKINS LANE is set, is central to life, as it is to the characters of HAWKINS LANE. They meet in the woods above a small mountain town, and their love of the woods and mountains triggers their love for each other …

 Snow lane

The rhythm of their stroking carried them to a stream-carved gorge, and [Ned]e led [Erica] along its edge … until he came to a tree-roofed lane. It was silent as a church. Together they stroked its length, then stood in the quiet, looking out across the untrammeled expanse of snow, then down the mountain at the glitter of sun off distant ponds. She laughed and gave a push that sent her out into the untouched blanket then turned down the slope.”

They become mountain rangers, and the wilderness shapes their lives as surely as it does the eagles, bear, and deer.

 Eagle

“As March neared its end, the stream behind the Romero house rushed with melting snow, the crowds of skiers and snowshoers on the streets of McKenzie Crossing began to thin, and eagles passed over the house on their way to the river. Erica recounted every change in her journal, every new bare patch of lawn, every bird, and every change pushed her harder …”

But existence in the heart of the Cascades keep them forever aware of the power nature wields.

 “[Ned]’s horse halted without warning, tossing his head, his ears twitching. Ned froze, signaling to Bonnie as he strained his ears. A far off rumble made his spine tingle, but he couldn’t place a direction.

‘I hear it!’ Bonnie whispered.

He reached over and took her hand, but could not judge which was they should go. So they remained frozen, watching their horses’ ears and straining to match them.

 A sheen of white glimmered ahead. A moment later they were staring without breath at the vast expanse of snow where the trail had been. He reached for Bonnie’s hand but it was gripping the pommel of her saddle. … tears running down her cheeks.

‘Bonnie …’

‘He’s in there, isn’t he? Archie.’”

 They are forever reminded that the wilderness dominates.

 “A deer appeared in the meadow beyond the barn. … Had some deer stood in the shadows watching them when they made love in this meadow that first summer? She shifted her gaze to the spot she’d marked with a bed of marigolds, and when she looked back, the doe had vanished. Gone with the whiff of morning breeze.”

 And reminds them of their vulnerability.

Rainy mountains

 “Over and over, he radioed her. Her line was open, but she didn’t answer. He was overwhelmed by the enormity of the woods, of the lunacy of their illusion that this mountain was their friend. The night belonged to the mountains, the wind, and the rain.”

 And of the brief, transient span of their lives.

Cascades peak

 “… he stood looking down its tree-roofed length. It was stripped and naked, but nature would re-clothe it. In a month, the alders and evergreens would take up everything that had happened and fold it into their branches.”

 So I invite you to spend a few hours in the Cascade wilderness and to feel its power over the lives in this story.

HAWKINS LANE Opening Chapter

How do you select a book in this world drowning in e-books? Reviews help. They at least tell you whether it’s the sort of story you enjoy–or not. Here’s a link to author Robert Mottram’s review of HAWKINS LANE:

Sometimes in spite of one’s best intentions, life can unexpectedly self-destruct. And when it happens to people you care about, such as the likeable young Hawkins family, it’s painful to watch. One minute Ned and Erica Hawkins are living an idyllic, outdoor life with their daughter in Washington’s magnificent Cascade Mountains. A moment later, harsh reality enters their paradise, bringing love’s betrayal, serious – maybe permanent – disablement and . . . even possible murder charges? How can things have gone so incredibly wrong? Can they ever be right again? Trust novelist Judith Kirscht to help us find our way through the twists and turns of this engrossing tale.

This at least give you an idea of how the story struck another reader.

But the recommendation of others is no guarantee you will like a book. The only way to know whether  an author will captivate you, is to read a few pages, so here is the first chapter of my latest release.

Hawkins Lane CoverHAWKINS LANE

Ned

1981

The Bellingham courtroom fell silent as the jury filed in. Ned Hawkins stared at their faces and shivered, then gripped his older brother’s hand. Billy was staring, too, but his eyes were ablaze, daring them. Chairs scraped, someone dropped a pen. They were seated.

“The defendant will rise.”

Ned’s stomach heaved as the word “defendant” rang out, and beside him Billy jerked.

Their father rose. The tall, narrow man who should have been in a checked wool shirt and boots looked naked in blue prison garb. His neck too long.

Ned couldn’t see around Billy to their mother, but he could see her hand clutching Billy’s arm, as though to restrain him.

“Mr. Foreman, have you reached a verdict?”

The foreman stood. “We have, Your Honor.” He unfolded a slip of paper and one hand fell to the rail. “We find the defendant, Amos Hawkins, guilty of murder in the first degree.”

Ned reached for Billy as he lunged, and together he and his mother held him fast as a murmur of satisfaction rose from the surrounding crowd.

“Time we saw the end of the likes of you!” a man behind them yelled.

Their father didn’t turn. Nor did he look at his family as they led him out.

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NED

1992

 Chapter 1

Ned Hawkins dealt with the last hiker of the day and looked at the clock that hung above the backpacks. Five o’clock. Five minutes later, he called goodnight to Paul Stagg, closed the outfitter’s door behind him, and stepped into McKenzie Crossing’s main street. A pair of teenage girls jumped away and made a wide circle around him.

There was a time he would have tipped his hat to their backs. But he’d given it up, like most everything else.

He headed for the old logging trails above town, his daily escape the chronic mid-week feeling of being trapped in his life. It was early fall, when the air cools and the tourists and campers begin to thin, the time of year that meant the gray months lay ahead. The sparkling of the snow when the sun broke through would only mean that skiers would replace campers at Stagg Outfitters. And he would still spend his days filling the needs of outsiders who flowed through his life with a freedom he couldn’t even imagine, then vanished to be replaced by another batch. The mountain air never eliminated the need to go back to town, but a couple of hours climbing the rocky trails made it more tolerable. And he’d settled for that, long ago.

He’d just cut off the trail toward the creek when he heard the whistle of a fishing line cutting the air. He stopped, then approached the water ahead carefully, expecting to find his brother, who he didn’t particularly want to see.

The figure standing in the water was much too small—a woman, in fact, and alone. Not many women came this far from town alone, much less to fly fish. The line whirred again, and he saw the fly drop into a hole at the far side of the stream. She was good. Who the hell was she? The girls he’d gone to school with had already grown dumpy with childbearing and bake sales. Not a tourist, surely, so far from the pack in strange country. Probably a camper whose husband was off downstream somewhere. He stayed fixed at the edge of the woods watching as she cast again. The fly caught. There was a flash of silver, and she played the trout. Without warning, the fish turned and headed downstream, turning her toward him. She jerked the pole when she saw him and froze. He was looking at a mop of black curls above a pair of very large dark eyes, widened now, in surprise. She was young. Barely out of high school, he’d guess.

“I’m sorry.” He stepped forward. He wanted no part in scaring people; his name did that for him often enough. “Ned Hawkins.” He held out his hand. “Good cast.” He looked at the line now floating limp in the current, then back, expecting the usual closed off withdrawal. But she just kept taking in his face, the condition of his clothes, with an acute assessing gaze. Then she held out her hand. “Erica Romano.”

“You camped near here?”

Her hand stopped, and her eyes narrowed.

“With your husband, I mean. Or your family.” He hastened to correct his mistake. Had he forgotten how to talk to strangers except over a counter?

Her gaze turned quizzical.

“I haven’t seen you before,” he explained, “and I don’t see many women alone this far from town. In fact, I’ve never seen a woman fish like you do.” He grinned, as though her casting was the reason he felt freed from himself. He wanted to stay just where he was, breathing in the intensity of her dark eyes.

She evidently read the admiration in his, for her shoulders relaxed a little. “I fished these streams with my Dad, growing up.” She looked down the gorge. “We spent summers up here.” Her eyes softened for a moment, then caution returned, and she retreated behind her guard again. “You aren’t fishing, and you don’t have a pack. What are you doing up here?”

He was taken aback at her forthrightness, then laughed—a rare event. “Just walking. I do it a lot. It clears the head.”

“You live in McKenzie Crossing?”

“All my life. So you’re summer folk.”

She nodded, clearly trying to decide whether to believe him. “Until this last June. We live up here now.”

He felt yet another grin spread over his face. “You’re not just camping, then?” He knew his voice was tinged with disbelief, but he’d never encountered a girl of this sort. What sort he didn’t know and didn’t need words for. Different. Not one of the floozies his brother picked up in bars or the polished coeds he served at the ski shop. Town girls would know his name; it had been passed down through generations as one to avoid. If they encountered him alone in the woods, they’d probably scream or at least head off as fast as the rocky trails would allow. He’d scared her; he knew he had, but she was over it now—and curious. Her dark eyes wondered, but they didn’t back off.

“Camping? No,” she said. “I may be foolhardy—they tell me I am—but I’m not an idiot. I don’t camp alone up here.”

“Glad to hear it.” He looked over at her gear, stashed on the bank, then at the sky. The sun had sunk behind the far peaks. “You fishing a lot longer? I’d be happy to walk you back to town.”

She looked at the stream; the sun no longer danced on the water. “You owe me a trout, you know. A good sized one, too.”

“I do,” he acknowledged. “I’ll come up and snare you one tomorrow. Promise.”

She laughed. “Now what’s the fun of that?”

“Well, you could come too,” he suggested, confounded by a boldness that was no more his than the rushing stream beside them.

She looked up as though she heard the surprise in his voice. “Maybe,” she said cautiously, then looked around at the enclosing woods, clearly assessing the hazards of her situation. “Anyway, you’re right.” Her voice cleared, as though coming to a major decision. “It’s time to pack up and go.”

“What brings you to McKenzie Crossing?” He picked up her tackle box as she took apart her rod. “For good, I mean.”

“My Dad died.” She stated it as though this answered the question, then turned and headed down the rocky path. They ducked under a low hanging limb in silence. “In January. Had a heart attack and that was it. He was gone.” The words fell from her lips as though she hadn’t intended to say them, and she stopped abruptly, cutting off the bewildered abandonment in her voice. Suddenly she looked very young and vulnerable, a little girl almost, except that her body continued to navigate the narrow way without stumbling.

“That’s rough,” he said, though in truth he didn’t think he’d feel that way if his own father dropped dead. In fact, the idea filled him with a blasphemous relief. Even locked behind bars a hundred miles away, the man was a presence at their table. They never saw him, never visited. His mother refused to have anything to do with him. But he was a ghost that tainted every move they made.

Erica slipped and grabbed a branch to recover. “So my mother decided to pack it up and open a practice up here.” Her voice was firm now. “She’s a doctor.” She grabbed an overhanging branch and swung herself under it. “My grandmother lives here, and she’s not in good health. Enid McDonald. Maybe you know her.”

He stopped half way over a log. Enid McDonald was the widow of the McDonald Mill owner, a world his family would never touch. And her mother was a doctor. He’d heard about a new woman doctor in town. His only contact with Erica Romano’s sort was across the counter at the store.

“What’s wrong?” She was way down the path, looking up at him.

He shook his head. “Nothing. Caught my shirt.”

She waited for him to catch up, then looked into his eyes again. “What did I say? You know my grandmother?”

He shook his head. “No ma’am. Know who she is, of course. Most everyone in McKenzie Crossing has worked at the mill, one time or another. Not my side of the tracks, I’m afraid.”

“Oh.” Her single word carried total understanding. “Well,” she said, threading her way around boulders and dead limbs, “don’t worry about it. She’s not exactly my cup of tea, either.” She stopped and turned. “And don’t call me ma’am, please.”

He smiled, a little mollified, though she was very naive if she thought not liking someone was the same as not belonging in their world. In five minutes, they would part ways—she toward the hilltop homes of the owners of McKenzie Crossing, he to the row of bungalows along the railroad. And that would be the end of it. How dumb to have invited her fishing.

They reached the edge of the woods and looked down the slope to the village, in shadow now, against the alpen-glow on the far peaks. She stopped and sighed. “Thank God for the mountains and the woods.”

“Amen.” He laughed, absurdly cheered by her words. He didn’t know what she was escaping from, but she expressed his daily prayer. He quelled the hope that rose with his breast. Cut it out Ned Hawkins; she’s not for you.

“Who are you?” she asked, rocking him back on his heels. “I mean …” She flung her hands up. “I’d really like to go fishing with you, but my good sense—which they say I rarely use—tells me you’re a stranger.” She gazed at his face. “You know?”

He smiled sadly. He knew. When she asked Enid McDonald who he was, that would end it for sure. “The Hawkins live down there.” He pointed to the lowland roofs. “Where you see all of those pickups and campers. My father worked in the mill when he was sober.” He stopped, then decided to let her think the man was dead. She’d find out differently soon enough, but it would give him a few more moments to fill his chest with air.

She was waiting for him to go on.

“I have a brother who mostly gets into fights, and a mother who puts up with us all.” He didn’t know whether he was trying to shut down his own hopes or warn her against him.

“And you?” She seemed unperturbed.

“I keep my mother company and try to keep my brother out of trouble.”

She waited, saying nothing. She was hard to put off.

“I also work at Stagg’s Outfitters, selling gear to skiers, rich tourists, and campers who want to get lost in these hills.”

She smiled. “Let’s go fishing.”

Christ, he couldn’t even insult her. He tried shaking his head but couldn’t stop the grin on his face, which she took to be a yes, which it was, of course. Ned Hawkins, you’re a fool, he told himself. “What time?”

“I have to get my grandmother settled for the day first,” she sighed, reaching for her tackle box. “She has emphysema—has one of those oxygen caddy things. She’d got no business living up here, but …” She broke off with a shrug. “It’s impossible to argue with a queen. Not until ten, I’m afraid. But don’t you have to work?”

“It’s my day off. Ten o’clock it is. Meet here?”

She smiled. “I think I’m very glad I met you, Ned Hawkins.” She waved and headed down the grassy slope.

He could only stand and watch, dumfounded at the girl’s ability to overwhelm all his defenses. Halfway down the slope, she stopped and turned back.

“Do you ride?” she called.

He blinked, then realized she was passing Carlson’s stables. “Sure!” he answered. She waved again, then went on down the hill.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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