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Monday, November 11, 2019

A day to remember

As I write this post, on Friday, Nov. 8, I'm doing a great deal of remembering. First, I'm thinking of my dad.

Anthen Hugh Hubbard was born on November 8, 1922. If he were still with us today, he'd be 97 years old. I feel blessed that I had him until seven years ago. My children, all adults now, remember him as one of the kindest, best people they ever knew. To me, he was Dad. His unconditional love carried me through all kinds of childhood and teenage crises, and strengthened me when the more serious adult challenges came. I always knew I could turn to Dad and he'd be there. I miss him.

The other memory associated with today is harder. It's also much more raw. Missing my dad can bring me to tears, but thinking about a year ago today is a whole other ball game. A year ago today, the most destructive and deadly wildfire in the history of California galloped through the county where I live. It wiped out the towns of Concow and Paradise, left 50,000 people displaced, and changed our county forever.
Many of our friends lost their homes and all their possessions. Some lost loved pets, a few lost relatives, friends or neighbors. 85 people lost their lives. The impact wasn't so great in my town. Although the fire burned within five miles of our home and threatened us with evacuation warnings, we were spared the flames. We were not spared all of the shock and horror. There's a hymn frequently sung in my church. The third verse begins:



     When dark clouds of trouble hang o'er us, and threaten our peace to destroy,
     There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh.

I can't sing it without tears. Any time I think of dark clouds of trouble, I remember stepping outside my home last November 8 and watching the black smoke, thousands of feet high, rolling toward us at 50 miles per hour, blown by the same winds that fanned the voracious flames. We lived in hazard masks for three weeks, doing our best to render aid to others while we all worked through shock.

My book, Sunny's Summer, the second book in the "Seasons of Destiny" series, works with characters who experienced that day as so many did. It takes place in the aftermath of the Camp Fire. In it, I've tried to give others the visceral sense of what that first day was like, and what the past year has been like for everyone who experienced it, each of us in different ways. Maybe, for me, it was a form of therapy, or working through the enormity of it all.

People here are recovering. Folks wear t-shirts that proclaim they are #ButteStrong or #ParadiseStrong. The first game of the Paradise High School football team this fall saw the stands overflowing with people who were moving back, or had sworn that one day, they will. Still, every community in Butte County has felt the impact, and nothing will be the same again.

Paradise may indeed rebuild, but it will take ten years before it begins to look like Paradise, and probably 30 years before the population numbers return. The population once here will not return, as displaced people scattered across the map, taking root elsewhere. Speaking of roots, most of the beautiful trees that did not burn died because of the toxins in the air and soil. The forest that went with the town may not fully regrow for a century or longer.

While November 8 means little to the people of the world, for me it's a private memorial day as I think of my dad. To the people of Butte County, it's a day that will live forever in memory, a memory we hope to make happier as life goes on.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Taking my cue from the sun

We're going solar. Again. The first set of panels, put up a few years back, have cut our energy bills so remarkably that, when we were given the chance to put more panels on our roof, we jumped for it.

We've been pleased with the solar company we chose. (Contact me privately if you'd like to know which one.) They own and service the panels, we generate power which we sell to the public utility, and we buy back power from the solar folks. So far, it's reduced most months' bills to a quarter of what they used to be, and the contract we have cost us nothing down.

Our public utility here in northern California has become something of a curse-word since the devastating fires a year ago. The fact that they're cutting power to households all over the state even as I write has not endeared them to any of us. My daughter put that whole question into perspective: "They say they want to avoid wildfires, so they have 900,000 households using candles." Uh-huh. It makes about that much sense to most of us.
 
There's no way to escape said public utility, but by becoming "co-gens" (makers of electric power), we feel we are fighting back, if only in a small way.

The first step in getting the new panels was some electrical rewiring. That happened last week. Abraham and Jesse were here for most of one day and they did a fantastic job. Soon the second crew will arrive and a bunch of healthy young people will crawl around on our roof, making said roof increase its usefulness and reducing the depth to which the utility company can reach when sinking its hand into our pockets.

It's one small step for humankind. I'm eager to take it.

Susan loves to hear from readers. Write her at susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com, or visit www.susanaylworth.com or her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author. Watch for Amber in Autumn, Book 3 in the "Seasons of Destiny" series, coming early next year. Books 1 and 2, Paris in the Springtime and  Sunny's Summer are available in e-book and paperback formats. Winter Skye will follow soon. Who knows? Stay in touch for updates. 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Not my fave

Everybody has a favorite holiday, and most of us have at least one that we'd rather do without. I feel that way about Halloween.

I didn't when I was a kid. I can remember some of the fun costumes I wore. (Yes, kids, we wore costumes even in the dawn of time.) In those days, moms still handed out homemade popcorn balls, cupcakes and candy. The idea that we'd give out only store-bought candy with each piece individually wrapped, goodies parents could feel secure about letting their kids eat, hadn't occurred to any of us.

Maybe that's part of what's soured me on the occasion. As the years pass, it seems Halloween becomes increasingly focused on the dark side. Parents have to walk the streets with their children even in their own neighborhoods, just to be certain they'll be safe. My husband, a photo-journalist, shot pictures of some of the cute kids at our door one year and ended up explaining that to the police. Suspicions are high--for good reason. No one dares bite into an apple taken from a stranger any longer. We've learned we can't trust each other.

I still enjoy seeing the kids dress up, especially when there's cleverness to their choices like the twins who came as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss, or the time my daughter's whole family dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz. The cowardly lion was adorable!  One favorite was when our son and his family did a redux of one favorite video game.

Still, among the princesses and pirates who grace our doorway, I see too many zombies, blood-covered walking corpses, or hockey-masked serial killers. The emphasis on the violent and gruesome wrings out the joy and the innocent childhood delight.

Okay, I'm a stick-in-the-mud, but I find that from one year to the next, I dread the coming of October 31. My husband has suggested that this year, we take the advice of one candy commercial: stock up on plenty of goodies, then turn off the lights, sit in the dark, and eat it all ourselves. There's an appeal to that, but I do see potential down sides, especially the next time the doctor asks me to weigh in.

I've been thinking that, instead of bingeing, I might look for somewhere else to be. Does anyone know of a great place for a stick-in-the-mud to hide out this Thursday? I'll bring candy.




Monday, October 21, 2019

Oh, those deadlines!

I've been Missing in Action for much of the last month. My family wonders where Mom has gone. My neighbors may be asking if I've moved away. Social media connections almost certainly believe I've unfriended them. I've been on deadline.

This particular deadline crunch began with a challenge. I attended a writers' conference in mid-September. A woman I've known for years and have worked with frequently, managing editor at a publishing house that has produced some of my books, attended the same conference. She issued a broad challenge to anyone willing to accept it: The publishing house had a contest going involving three different genres. They sought novellas in each of the three categories, with the best entry in each to be published next year. One of those categories is historical romance and my friend, the editor, challenged me to send her a manuscript.

The problem? She showed me the flyer for the contest and issued her personal challenge on September 14. The deadline for all entries was October 15. Could I write a novella start to finish in a month?

Now you understand why I've been MIA. I've been pushing that deadline. The good news is, the novella is complete at 36,000 words. Three lovely readers and an editor gave it a once-over for me, even when I gave them a two-day deadline to get it done, and I submitted my complete manuscript last week, on October 14, actually one day early. It's a good story, too. I did it! But that's about all I've done lately.

What has this experience taught me? For one thing, I can be stubborn about taking on a challenge, even if it doesn't seem realistic. Also, I can write a book in a month if I'm highly motivated. Those are good things to know. Not so good are some of the other lessons, like realizing I can disappear so completely into the black hole of my fictional world that I can practically vanish from the physical world we inhabit. Not good. Not good at all.

I'm back now, remembering where I live and reconnecting with the actual, flesh-and-blood people around me. I'm even working again on my other deadlines, which got pushed back or snubbed altogether during my month of publishing panic. Today, I appear to be just like other people with other jobs, people who work given hours and live the rest of the time with family and friends.

I'm not cured, however. Deadline Fever will surely strike again. One day soon, I'll realize I've spent so much time playing with my imaginary friends that my actual, physical friends wonder what has happened to me. Or maybe not. After all, my friends know I'm a writer, .

I love to hear from readers. Write me at susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com, or visit www.susanaylworth.com or her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author. Watch for Amber in Autumn, Book 3 in the "Seasons of Destiny" series, coming early next year. Books 1 and 2, Paris in the Springtime and  Sunny's Summer are available in e-book and paperback formats. Winter Skye will follow soon. Who knows? There may even be an historical romance novella to add to the mix. Stay in touch for updates. Happy Autumn!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fringe benefits

The writers' conference I attended a week ago met in Gilbert, Arizona, in the Phoenix metro. I was born in the bordering city of Mesa and lived there until I was nearly 12. After my family moved north into Navajo country, we continued to visit Mesa several times a year to see grandparents and other relatives and to take care of the kind of business we couldn't do in Navajo County.

My two remaining uncles, my dad's younger brothers, and my husband's one aunt, his mother's sister, all live within 12 miles of the conference center. Seeing family again became a fringe benefit of attending this particular conference. It's a bonus gift I will always treasure.

My Uncle Gary still lives with his wife, Aunt Lynn, in the home I remember from girlhood. Neither of them is in excellent health, but--considering they're in their late 80s--they're doing rather well.

Uncle Harold, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, may be doing even better. He lives in a home he bought a few years ago, on the east side of the Valley of the Sun, drives his own car, and does most of his own cooking. Although he's outlived two wives, he doesn't lack for female companionship. He's dating a widow named Rita. I remember her from the first time they dated, decades ago, before he met the "cute blonde" (his words) who became his first wife.

My husband's Aunt Geniel, who is also 90, isn't doing as well--at least, not lately. A couple of weeks before our arrival, she fell and broke her shoulder. It's irreparable, but Geniel has an amazing pain threshold and says it doesn't bother her much. It does bother the rest of her body, which is reacting to the stress of the physical insult even though it does not register as pain, rising blood pressure being the most obvious sign. We spent some time with his cousin, Donalyn, and visited Aunt Geniel in a rehab hospital, where Donalyn did her mother's hair and Geniel shared stories about her family and girlhood. Despite the injury, she was in good spirits, and we enjoyed our time with her.







What a pleasure to see these wonderful people again! We don't know if we will have the chance in the future. It's a long way from northern California to the Valley of the Sun, and--although each person born comes with a lifetime guarantee--there's no guarantee as to how long that will last. We felt privileged to visit them this time. Call it a fringe benefit.

As an added benefit, I took my spouse on a tour down memory lane, visiting the homes where I lived as a child. At the second home, the place where we lived for a couple of years before moving north, the owner came out, saw us parked at the curb, and invited us in to tour the place. Everything has changed over the decades, but it's still much as I remember it, some of the major features left exactly as they were. We also saw schools I attended, parks where I played with friends, and a church building, now a school, where my family worshipped.

"You can never go home again." So said Thomas Wolfe and the man got it right. It wasn't home and hasn't been for a long time. Both my grandparents' homes, side by side, were long ago knocked down. A large church building stands where their homes once stood. My old church has become a private elementary school and my other schools have changed so much I recognized them only by their locations. Still, I felt the nostalgia of seeing it all again and remembering, just one more side benefit of showing up at last weekend's writers' conference. Thanks again, ANWA.