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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Keeping perspective

An old joke says you know it will be a bad day when you turn on the news to see evacuation routes out of your city. It isn't a joke when it happens.

Take, for instance, last Sunday evening. We were on our way to the nearby town of Oroville, headed to a son's birthday dinner, when we received a message. Our county sheriff had ordered the evacuation of Oroville due to the "expected failure" of a spillway on the nation's tallest dam. Almost immediately, the traffic going the opposite direction went from sparse to heavy to bumper-to-bumper as people fled the city where we were headed on their way to the city we had just left. Uhhh...?

Phone calls and text messaging moved the dinner from one son's home below the dam to the home of another son above the lake. Then the traffic slowed in our direction as we joined others heading into the foothills.

As a reporter for the local newspaper, my hubby had covered the Department of Water Resources (DWR). He knew the dam inside and out, quite literally, and understood what the risks were and weren't. Like most other drivers, we stayed calm, maintaining normal traffic patterns and even letting others into the lane in front of us.

Not so with the folks who panicked. As we drove east, a car whizzed up the fog line on our right, going west at about twice the speed limit, backing up down the shoulder. Another car flew by on our left, possibly going as fast as eighty m.p.h. on a city street, dodging cars from both directions in the center turn lane. Those were only two of the people who behaved foolishly, even dangerously.

Keeping perspective, we took a back-door route to go home that evening only to find the national news showing images we had just seen along the way. I promise we weren't laughing, but we weren't panicked either.

Most of a week has passed. So far the spillway has held, the lake level is down, the evacuation order has been lifted, and things are back to what passes for normal. The only big difference for us has been a "sleep-over" with the three cute grandbabies in our downstream son's family. Although about 188,000 people are still under an evacuation warning, we're no longer in the national headlines (although we're still in the news) and it looks like the greatest risks may be behind us.

So far the only people who have been injured were those who lost perspective, the folks who panicked and caused mash-ups along the evacuation routes. The lack of perspective on the part of the DWR is a matter for the politicians to unravel.


Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sensational Scents of the Season

That holiday time of year is upon us again and, even if we weren't aware of the calendar, the aromas in the air would remind us.

Nature starts the process. Here in northern California, some trees still have leaves although the process of "deciduating" has begun. (We have used this term ever since our brilliant five-year-old granddaughter decided to turn the word deciduous into an active verb. Why not? It fits.) The leaves on the ground, spattered by yesterday's light rain, smell like autumn--that light scent of mouldering that, at least in its early stages, is rich and vaguely herbal. While some trees still have leaves, my roses still have flowers which add their scent to the mix while the last of the lavender blossoms chime in, the underlying leaf scent mixed with deep, vivid florals.


This is the rainy season where I live and, this year at least, the weather is cooperating. (I'm secretly holding out hope that this will be the drought-breaker year.) When the breeze picks up, blowing out of the south, the scent of fresh water is in the air. As a side benefit, these mixed-weather days also provide us with heart-breaker sunsets, almost impossibly beautiful.

Holiday baking has begun in my kitchen and elsewhere, adding scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, yeasty breads, fresh-ground wheat and citrus. My husband has begun lighting his favorite holiday-scented candles, adding their hints of spice and pine.

Apple pie, the classic all-American favorite, is one of my favorites too, but enough work that I usually reserve its creation for the holiday season, that delightful time of year when the aroma of baking apples mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg fills the kitchen and diffuses through the whole house. Hence the visions of sugar plums that dance in our heads as we sleep.

Of course the stores have to get into the act. Each shop we enter has its own version of holiday scent to share. It's often said that scent is the most evocative of all our senses, calling to mind our past experiences with that same aroma. No wonder this scent-sational season fills me with nostalgia.

As I move through these coming weeks--cooking and baking, humming carols and swimming in nostalgic memory--I will be enjoying the sights of the season, but it's the scents that will bring autumn, Thanksgiving, and Christmas home. I will breathe deeply, smell, and remember with joy.



Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Where do you get your ideas?"

One of the common questions asked in any author interview is "Where do you get your ideas?" Most writers I know have trouble with this one since, for us, the ideas are everywhere. Life is a constant Niagara Falls flow of ideas. For those of us who think this way, it's odd to hear people ask the question. Often we want to answer, "Don't you get ideas too?"

This makes me think of Son #5. He is a gifted musician, and by "gifted," I mean he truly got music as a gift. It was born in him--which makes Hubby and me wonder what throwback ancestor left that gene lying around. Son 5 learned to play guitar when he was barely a teen. By the time he was old enough for after-school employment, he worked in a music store where he could pick up and play any stringed instrument they had. Just. Like. That. He has since taught himself piano.


When we remarked on his marvelous ability, he usually shined us on with, "It's easy. Anyone can do it." It has taken him time to realize that no, not everyone can do it. Authors are the same way with ideas:  Coming up with ideas is so natural to us that it feels like anyone can do it.

In fact, with a little training, almost anyone can do it. It requires the exercise of imagination, but it's not that hard. If you feel imagination-challenged, just ask, "What if?" Here's how it works for me:


  • On a TV program, I heard the story of 17-year-old Julianne Koepcke who, in 1971, was the only survivor of a plane crash in the Venezuelan rain forest. After a two-mile fall, she hiked out alone. Her story percolated in the back of my mind until one day I asked, "What if a modern teen survived a similar accident, but in the Bolivian part of the rain forest where I've been? And what if she was not alone, but had a companion who required her care?" This idea was the genesis for my newest manuscript, an adventure called RESCUE.
  • A friend chatted about a woman who claims to see ghosts. I thought, "What if a teen who pretended to psychic abilities was actually visited by the spirit of a murdered girl?" That grew into my first mystery story, MAGGIE RISING: Adventures of a Part-Time Psychic.
  • After hearing friends talk about high school reunions, I wondered, "What if a young woman returned to the town where she attended high school only to find that her buddy had grown into a very attractive, interesting man?" It was hardly a new thought, but as the bits and details began filling in, it grew into the first of nine romances set Rainbow Rock, Arizona. Each of the eight that followed began when I picked a secondary character from a previous book and wondered who would be attractive to that person and how they might meet.
  • While watching a movie remake of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," I suddenly identified with his mother and wondered, "What if she told her own story? Would it sound different?" The result was my one-woman play, GERTRUDE.


Other authors I know have written stories after hearing of a racially-motivated murder and wondering, "What if it happened to my child?" or watching a documentary about Adolf Eichmann and thinking, "What if he lived among us today?" A friend watched a teenaged couple telling their families about the future they planned and imagined what might happen in a similar couple if one of them was diagnosed with a disfiguring illness. The same process, with variations, has led to the creation of just about every fictional story we've ever heard, seen, or read.

To let your own imagination create the same way, just observe what's happening around you and ask, "What if?" Now imagine Dr. Seuss saying, "Oh, the places you'll go!" May we all enjoy the journey.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.













Thursday, October 20, 2016

FALL-ing for Fall

Every season has its joy and something lovely to share with us, but I have always been a spring person. Warming temperatures mean I can turn down the heat or stop wearing sweaters inside. Trees and shrubs respond to the warmth with new leaves, coating the branches recently dormant and barren in new green. Soon the budding flowers follow. By April, our home here in northern California is surrounded in beauty, everything budding, blossoming, and burgeoning with new life. The city is a kaleidoscope of color.

Animals get into the act, renewing their species with a new, young generation. The pastures around our city fill with new calves, frolicking lambs, and adorable kids. (In this case, I really mean baby goats.) I love everything about spring.


A friend recently rhapsodized in a similar way about the beauties of autumn: the color in the changing leaves, the cooling of scorching summer days (we get them here), the reopening of schools that get the kids off the streets in the middle of the day. Although I could see her points, I still felt that, for me, the autumn season can never compete with spring.

Still, as the cooling temperatures signal the change of seasons, I am learning to fall for fall. All the many fruit trees and crop fields that blossomed in the spring are now filled with ripening fruits and vegetables and the markets with gorgeous produce. Trees here are not yet turning, but when they do, they become a riot of blazing color. There's also the benefit of cutting off the air conditioner and expecting lower energy bills. And I have to admit it's nice to run an errand without worrying about running down school kids.

Autumn brings anticipation: of the approaching holidays, of snow in the Sierra foothills, of crackling logs and snuggling up with a good book in front of the fire or sharing the same space with my sweetheart or a cuddly grandchild. It heralds the arrival of the rainy season and water our state needs badly.It brings the joy of discovering new, delicious recipes for salsa, jams, and jellies and the first mug of spiced cider this year.

I expect I will always be a fan of spring and consider it my favorite season, but I'm learning to love the autumn. It comes in at a close second.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Miracle of Google

A young man I know once said he thought Google was God: It sees everything and knows everything. I found his observation interesting, if somewhat irreverent. Certainly Google has become the go-to for almost anyone with a question.

Lately I've found I keep a window open on my desktop just for Google searches. My new work in progress is taking me places I need to understand much better, even including some where I've been and done. My main character, 16-year-old Marissa/Dulce, finds herself on a journey through the Amazonian rainforests of Bolivia, and even though I have been in those same rainforests, there is too much about them I don't know. Google knows it all.

What's the average daytime temperature in the rainforest? Google knows. What trees grow there? Google knows that too and can tell me whether the kapok, which is endemic to rainforests in some parts of the world, actually grows in Bolivia. (It doesn't, as a general rule.) What are forest remedies for topical infection? How tall is a mapajo tree? How does a pit viper hunt? What do you call the large-cat sound a jaguar makes? What airlines fly out of Santa Cruz, Bolivia? How do the jungles of southern Bolivia differ from the rainforests of the north? Google knows it all. Maybe there is something to the claim of omniscience after all.


As Dulce ventures farther and farther into her adventure, I will have a thousand more questions, and Google will be there for me, I love Google. Since my muse has gone rogue and begun to lead me on amazing side-road adventures I never expected to take, I am becoming ever more dependent on this marvelous modern know-it-all. It may never have a place in my heart or my worship, but Google will always have a place on my computer screen.


Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.