Friday, November 30, 2012


            Debate class had gotten past the opening business, and we were breaking for individual work when Elaine Arnold slipped into the desk next to me.  Elaine was a year younger than I.  Good-looking, an A student and always a favorite with the teachers at Trona High, she was a straight-liner if ever there was one and a good debate buddy.
            She spoke softly, leaning over the gap between us. “I’ve got to ask you a question.” 
            I pulled back a bit.  “Oh?”
            “I know it’s ridiculous, but I’ve heard stories.”  She glanced around.  Everyone was busy.  “Do you go out in the desert blowing things up for fun?”  She shrugged.  “I don’t believe it, just wondered.  Do you?”
            My shoulders relaxed.  I had imagined much worse.  “Of course.”
            I don’t know how I had earned the “mild-mannered reporter” label.  It always surprised me that everyone—except those who really knew me—saw me as the quiet guy who never did anything dangerous.           
            Elaine stared at me in earnest for a moment.  I wasn’t sure how she was reacting.
            She leaned in and said, “Will you take me with you sometime?”
            “Sure,” I said with a grin.  “How about this Saturday?”

            Saturday was a safe day to go out dynamiting. The Sheriff from San Bernardino only came through town on Thursday.  I got Ken Corbridge to come along.  We picked up Elaine in the old dune buggy and drove out to our dynamite stash.  Elaine’s eyes got really big, but she made no comment.  The dune buggy had no sides, roll bars, or seat belts, and only one long bench seat.  We put Elaine in the middle of the seat, with me driving on one side and Ken seated on her other side to keep her from falling out.  Ken held the dynamite in his lap.
SEARLES LAKE  CC Bobak Ha'Er/Wikimedia Commons
            “We’re going to Gold Bottom Mine,” I explained to Elaine as we drove out of town.  Before Airport Rd, I turned off onto a wide, flat dirt road that circled around the dry lake bed of Searles Lake.  The mineral companies who mined the lake deposits kept the road in good condition so I could get up some speed—and impress Elaine.  The road, clearly visible through the holes in the floor beneath our feet, whizzed by.
            After the road curved south, I increased our speed.  Suddenly, I saw the road leading to Gold Bottom Mine on the left.  I spun the wheel and we skidded sideways, throwing clouds of dirt into the air and massacring some bushes before finally straightening out onto the narrow mine road. 
            Enveloped in dust, I felt Elaine tugging at my arm.  “We lost Kenny,” she yelled in my ear.  I glanced over.  Sure enough, it was just Elaine and I on the seat.  Kenny was gone.
            I slammed on the breaks, slid to a stop, and backed up along the rutted track to return to the Searles Lake road.  Through the swirling dust, we saw Kenny lying flat on his back in the middle of the road, holding the dynamite tightly to his chest.  Jumping out, we ran to him.  “Ken, are you okay?” I called.  “Are you okay?”
            I got to him first and stood looking down. “Ken?  Ken!  Are you all right?”
            Ken wasn’t answering.  Eyes closed tight, he lay perfectly flat and still.
            When Elaine joined me, she leaned over and commented, “He’s still holding the dynamite.”
            As soon as she said that, Ken came alive.  Raising the dynamite above his chest, he set it over on the road away from him, and then pulled his hands back onto his chest again.
            I stared down at him.  “It’s too late for that, Ken.  If it were going to blow, it would have happened already.
            For the rest of the drive to Gold Bottom Mine, Ken insisted Elaine hold the dynamite since she was in the middle and less likely to fall out.  Since Elaine was holding the dynamite, she insisted I drive slow.
            We had a great time that day blowing up rocks and assorted, abandoned desert junk.  Elaine was suitably impressed.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


          Let me tell you about Trona.  Trona is where the story for our first book, “Pitch Green” takes place.  It is where I went to grade school and Berk went to junior high and high school.  It is a very small town stretched out along a desert highway in California’s high desert.

              It is hot, (damn hot) in the summer and cold enough in the winter.  Because it is situated next to a giant alkaline dry lake bed, it is impossible to grow grass there.  However, cactus does very well.

            The main industry consists of sucking chemicals out of this giant alkaline dry lake bed and shipping them by the thousands of tons all over the world.  As a result there is a constant sulfuric or rotten egg smell that permeates the entire town.

            We lived in a small home, not small by Trona standards though, on the North of town, near the edge of the desert.  But then, because the town is stretched out along the highway that runs through it, basically everyone lives on the edge.  In more ways than one.

            Our description of Trona in our book and the lifestyle there is very, very accurate, except for the fact that there is no giant stone mansion in the middle of town, and people are not being eaten on a regular basis by some unknown, creepy monster.  Nevertheless, if you have ever been to Trona, it would not be difficult to imagine these types of things going on there.

            Stephen King wrote about a similar, but fictional, town in Nevada in his book “Desperation”.  Our plot is very different (we would never copy “The King” of horror), but the mood set by the two towns is, well, familiar to each other.  It is the type of place that if you were driving through it, and your car broke down, you might imagine that something sinister and nefarious could happen to you.

            Having set the mood, or tried to anyway, I must add that I loved living in Trona when I was a child.  It was nice that everyone knew everyone.  It was fun that almost the whole town would show up at the huge community swimming pool on scorching hot summer days.  And I dearly loved that I could walk from my front door to the desert and freely roam, with our dog Ginger, as and when I pleased.  That is a freedom that I miss even now, fifty years later.
            I think, without a doubt, that Trona is a good place to set a scary story.  But, it is still, on its own merits, also just a good place, too.


Monday, November 19, 2012


       I thought a good way to introduce my thoughts on Trona would be to post a short story I wrote for Halloween that takes place in Trona.  It is called "A Trona Honeymoon".  Hopefully the story is more imaginative than the title.  I do want to post some good memories about Trona, I have many: hiking with my dog; the Trona swimming pool; Great Falls, and much, much more.  But, let's start with a scary story, because scary stories is what I do.  Here goes:

“Oh yea, you bet, we had us a murder, unsolved even now, right here in Trona.”  The bald old man chewed at his dentures, his eyes brightened with excitement.  Rob sighed; this old coot was determined to impress them.  The old turd continued, “Mos’ generally you don’t get that kind of thing out here in the high desert, you know, but we had us one, one of them unsolvable kinds of murder.”
Rob’s new wife Meeshkin squealed in pleasure.  “Tell us all about it, sir.  It sounds so exciting,” she gushed.  They were checking in to the Sidewinder Motel and the old desk clerk had been flirting nonstop with Meeshkin since they walked in the door; the creepy old jerk.  Rob knew that Meeshkin didn’t mind, she was a big flirt and especially, for reasons that were completely unknowable to Rob, she enjoyed flirting with creepy old men; like this old desk clerk.
“Well I’ll tell ya,” the old man waved his finger at them as if he was imparting great wisdom, “ya all have to watch out, ‘cause that there murderer, whoever he is, has never been caught.  Mos’ generally they catch them guys, you know, those murderin’ types, but this one, he’s still on the loose.  Let me tell ya about it.  It happened zactly ten years ago tomorrow.  Yep, zactly ten years ago to the very date.”  He folded his arms, waiting for them to be impressed.
“Oh, I can’t wait to hear all about it!”  Meeshkin’s eyes brimmed with excitement.  Rob thought he was going to die a thousand deaths listening to this codger’s story.  Rob and Meeshkin had driven from LA the night before to Las Vegas, on a whim, and gotten married earlier that morning.  Rob had only known Meeshkin a few months, but she was so pretty.  No, pretty was an inadequate word for Meeshkin.  Her face was pretty enough, but it always exuded enthusiasm and excitement which made her seem that much more desirable.  Her platinum hair was long and curly.  She always wore bright colored nail polish and matching lipstick.
She was slender, but still voluptuous.  She was the most glamorous, (yes, that was a better word: glamorous) girl that Rob had ever dated.  And on the spur of the moment she had agreed to marry him.  Rob knew he was lucky.  He was short, and balding, (just starting, but noticeable), and his nose was too big and eyes set too close together.  On the other hand he did have a successful dental practice, and for a young doctor, had lined up an impressive array of investments.  He didn’t think he was such a slouch.  Without a doubt, though, Meeshkin was the most attractive woman he had ever dated.  And now they were married.
Rob looked at her and smiled.  Meeshkin smiled back at him and then took a big bite out of a honey crisp apple she had brought inside with her.  Pleasure reflected from her face at its taste.  She was always eating fruit. She licked apple juice from her lips with her long, pink tongue.  “Umm, yummy!”  She winked at him. 
If she was enjoying this story, Rob could put up with it for her sake.  He had not wanted to even drive back through this half deserted desert town.  But Meeshkin had wanted to go back to LA by way of Death Valley, and that brought them through Trona: a desolate desert town stretched along a deserted desert highway.  She had suggested they stop at this moribund, sun bleached motel, and Rob had agreed, more because he was anxious for his wedding night than anything else.
“Please go on, Sir, tell us about the murder!”  Her eyes sparkled with delight and she took another large bite of the apple.
“Don’t you be a-sirin’ me, missy.  I may look old, but I still got me some flame in my furnace.”  The old fart winked at her and Meeshkin giggled in delight.  Rob’s face flushed in annoyance.  “I’ll tell ya,” the geezer continued, “they found the body right out there,” he pointed out the front door toward the dry, white lake bed just opposite the motel on the other side of the highway, “way out there on the other side of the lake bed, just layin’ out there, cookin’ in the desert sun, you know, just out there roastin’ away.
“When they found it, it was all shriveled up like some ol’ Egyptian mummy.  This ol’ boy looked like’n he was a thousand years old.  But he weren’t.  No, no, the sheriff’s deputy, he’s my buddy, Rudy Hernandez, he’s the deputy, he told me that ol’ guy all wrinkled and dried up from lyin’ in the sun was just a young’n, ‘bout your age.” He pointed at Rob.  “No more ‘n that. 
“An’ I’ll tell ya somepem else too.  Ya know what he died of?  Well, I’ll tell ya!”  Oh please do, thought Rob sarcastically.  “Dee-san-gree-nation.”  The old man nodded his head as if he just said something very educated.  “Ya know what that means?  Well, I’ll tell ya!”  We couldn’t stop you if we wanted to; Rob’s thoughts were scornful, but he kept his face impassive.  “That means that ol’ boy had all the blood sucked outa his body.  Someone, like some ol’ Dracula monster, sucked him dry of all his blood, and the desert sun sucked all the rest of his juices outa him ‘till he was all puckered up like some ol’ prune.
“An’ ya wanna know the funny part?”  Rob raised an eyebrow, There’s a funny part?  “Weren’t no puncture hole nowhere on ‘im, neither.  All his blood was just up’n gone, but no one could tell ya how it all got sucked out.  No holes, no punctures, no cuts, no nothin’.”  He nodded his head again to add gravity.  “Some guy jus’ sucked all the blood out of this ol’ boy, actually, this young fella, and dropped his body out there on the lake bed and left him there, no clues nor nothin’ left behind to tell who did it neither.  To this day, and like I was sayin’ it been nigh on ten years come t’morrow, ain’t no one can tell ya who did it, ceptin’ him who did the killin’, and he ain’t talkin’, I can assure ya of that!”
Holy, freaking crap, are you through?  Rob politely asked, “Can we have our key please?”
As they walked to their room Rob thought, what a dreadful little desert town this is.  There couldn’t be more than a couple thousand people here.  Many of the small decrepit, clapboard homes were abandoned, some of them burned; probably meth labs.  The only obvious source of industry in town was a large chemical plant, belching smoke and noxious fumes into the dry, miserable air.  There was no color anywhere, everything gray, or brown or dirty white.  Evidently only a few wretched plants could grow there; no grass, no trees, no flowers, no shrubbery to speak of.  The place was like an anti-garden, or maybe an ungarden.  Whatever it was it was the opposite of lush.  Rob thought, if I lived here and had a summer home in hell, I’d sell my home here and move to hell!  His own joke brought him a little mirth and made him feel better.
Their room was no better than the town.  Colorless, dry and lifeless.  Meeshkin pulled a banana out of her shoulder bag.  Rob glanced out the window.  “I don’t suppose there’s a decent place to get some dinner.”
Meeshkin smiled at him.  “Don’t worry, I have plenty of fruit.”  Nothing seemed to depress her.  She slowly stripped the skin off the banana.  Extending her tongue she slid the white meat into her mouth and bit off the tip.  Her face screwed up in pleasure.  “Ummm, yummy!”  Reaching into her bag again she brought out another piece of fare.  “Here, do you want a peach?”  Rob looked at the round, firm fruit, covered in soft pinkish fuzz.
“No thanks, I’ll wait.”  Meeshkin shrugged her shoulders, and Rob stretched in feigned tiredness.  “Maybe we should take a nap.”  In one fluid movement he pulled his polo shirt over his head and headed for the bed.  Before he flopped down, he drew back in horror.  “A spider!” he exclaimed in a voice that didn’t sound as masculine as he would have liked.  He hated spiders; they were hideous and repugnant.
A large, black, shiny spider was crawling across the bedspread.  Its legs moving marionette style as it hurried to get away.  He picked up the phone book to swat it.
“No!”  Meeshkin held out her hand to stop him.  “Don’t kill it.  It hasn’t done anything to you.”  Rob couldn’t believe it, but she picked the vile thing up between her forefinger and thumb, carefully examining it; its legs flailing in the air.  “Look.”  She held the spider for Rob to inspect.  He tried, not very successfully, to hide his revulsion.  “It’s a black widow spider.  You can tell from the red hour glass on its little belly.”
“Toss it outside.”  He opened the door for her.  Her teeth gleaming white, she beamed at him and then place the spider down safely outside their room.  It scurried away.  Before Rob could react to it further Meeshkin sauntered over to him and wrapped herself in his arms.  She was an odd person, he had to admit, but she was so stunning, and she was so his.  They kissed.
They had both been married before.  Rob in a joyless marriage of about five years.  His ex had divorced him as soon as he had enough income for alimony.  He didn’t know much about Meeshkin’s first marriage, other than she had been young and her first husband had been a jerk.  (Meeshkin’s words).  She treated him to a seductive smile.  “I think a nap would be a good idea.  But first, have some peach.”  She offered it to him again and to be a good sport he took a large, juicy bite.  She kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “See, isn’t it yummy?”
When Rob woke up he noticed two things: it was dark, and he had a killer headache.  He tried to sit up on the bed but was pulled back down.  Confusion swam through his thoughts and at first he couldn’t figure out where he was and what was going on.
“Oh, you finally woke up, you sleepy head.”  He could hear Meeshkin’s voice, but he couldn’t see her.  A flame jumped into existence, and then moved to his bedside.  Rob could see Meeshkin in a suggestive robe, holding a match.  She used it to light a candle on the bedside table.  Gently rubbing his cheek she asked, “How do you feel?”
He tried to get up again, but could not.  He tried to talk, but something prevented him from articulating words.  In the dim candlelight he finally noticed that his hands and feet were tied to the bedstead, holding him down.  Shaking his head he tried to clear his thoughts and remember what they had been doing.  The last thing he remembered was eating a peach and laying down for a “nap”.  He looked at Meeshkin, confusion and fear in his eyes.
“Ah, you don’t know what’s going on, do you?”  Meeshkin leaned over him and kissed his forehead.  “Well,” she paused, as if for effect, “I drugged you!”  She squealed it like it was a fun surprise.  “With the peach!”
Rob blinked several times.  Why had she drugged him?  Why had she tied him up?  Why couldn’t he talk?  He tried to say something, but the words came out as mumbles and groans.  She sat on the bed next to him, carefully crossing her lily white legs.  “Don’t try and talk, honey, you have a tube down your throat.”
A tube down my throat?  He pleaded with his eyes; what the hell was going on?  She patted him on the chest, and in a baby talk kind of way said, “Don’t you worry, dearie, I’ll explain everything.”  Sighing, she looked at the ceiling.  “Where to begin?  First of all, that murder, you know the one the desk clerk was telling us about, well, guess what?  I did it!”  She clapped her hands at the surprise.  “That’s right, I sucked out all that blood and then dropped the body way out, miles out there, on that hot, old dry lake bed.  That was my first husband, and he deserved to die, that miserable old jerk.  I was just a child bride,” she blinked her eyes at him with an over-the-top look of innocence on her face, “I didn’t know how else to get out of the marriage.  So I killed him.  I drained him of his stingy old blood and left him to bake in the hot desert sun.  They didn’t find him for weeks.”  She clapped her hands again and bounced up and down on the bed.
“But you’re not a miserable, old jerk, no you’re not, are you?”  She ran her fingers through his thinning hair.  “You are kind of homely, though.  And, I do want all your money.  And, I’ll sell your dental practice for a lot more money.  So, I’m going to kill you too, and leave you in the desert too, so you can shrivel up like an old Egyptian mummy, and take all your money.  And don’t you worry your little head at all about me hurting my back moving you around once you’re dead, because that old desk clerk will help.  Again, just like he did ten years ago!”
Rob jerked violently at his homemade shackles trying to break free.  He tried to scream, but only a muffled whine came out, and it caused his throat to sting.  He lurched and pulled with his arms and legs, but it was to no avail.  Finally, exhausted, he stopped.  Meeshkin was still on the bed next to him.  Still smiling that sweet, lovely smile of hers.  He wanted to reason with her, plead with her.  She could have all the money.  She could have anything she wanted, just leave him alive.
She stood up and let her robe slide off her, revealing a scarlet baby-doll underneath.  He had bought it for her in Vegas.  “I bet you’re wondering how I got all the blood out with leaving a puncture wound.  I’ll tell you.”  Holding up the tube that was running into his mouth, holding it like the conclusion to a brilliant magic trick, she continued, “This goes through your mouth, into your throat, and into an artery.  They never thought to look there for the puncture wound.
“Now, I’ll just suck out all your blood; yes I will.  I can only a stomach about a quart an hour, so it will take all night.”  Raising the open end of the tube to her mouth she slid it through pursed lips and took a long draught.  Smiling she licked the viscous, rosy liquid from her teeth.  She leaned over him, inches from his nose.  “Ummm, yummy!” 

Friday, November 16, 2012


       Here in Colorado,  leaves are off the trees, snow is on the ground, and the air is definitely nippy.  It's time to take a break and talk warm, breezy, and verdant Hawaii!  We're excited to welcome to our blog Lehua Parker, author of One Boy, No Water.  She also answers to "Aunty Lehua".

If you want to know what we think of this fine book, read our blog post last Friday, November 9th.

Aloha, Berk and Andy! Thanks for letting me drop by to answer a few of your questions about my MG/YA novel One Boy, No Water, book one in the Niuhi Shark Saga. It’s available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon in hardback, trade paperback, and ebook.

What inspired you to write One Boy, No Water?

There’s an image burned in my brain from a movie I saw when I was seven years old, sprawled on the cool, polished cement floor in Kahului Elementary’s cafeteria.  It was from the Legends of Hawaii series and was about villagers who kept disappearing and it was feared they were eaten by a large shark. There’s a moment when they rip the cloak off the shoulders of a young man to reveal a gaping shark’s mouth where his back should be! Since then I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the idea that his parents kept this secret hidden his entire life and that he was eating people he knew. All the answers to the why, how, and what if questions I asked myself eventually turned into the Niuhi Shark Saga.

 Were any of the characters and situations drawn from your own life?

Yes, a lot of them are! While I never had an allergy to water, I did experience a lot of the bullying Zader does, particularly when I was in elementary school and the only blonde, blue-eyed kid in the school district. Not class, school district, including all the faculty and staff.  I wished I had a brother like Jay or a friend like Char Siu or someone like Uncle Kahana to guide me through it all.  Most of the things Zader and his friends do, I also did as a kid, from surfing to kite flying to dancing hula.  In the book, there’s a lot of pressure on sixth graders to get into a good private school.  That’s also real; I went through the same thing.  Fortunately, like Zader I had a teacher, Mr. Waters, who went out of his way to make sure his part of my private school applications were stellar.  Getting into The Kamehameha Schools for seventh grade changed my life, much like getting into Ridgemont will change Zader’s.

Where does the Niuhi Shark legend come from?

Throughout the Pacific there are stories about shape shifters who can change from human form to something else like a tree, molten lava, a gust of wind, or a shark.  While not specifically based on any one legend, the series does echo some of these ideas.  In Hawaiian, the word niuhi means ‘a shark large enough to eat a human,’ and is usually translated as ‘large tiger shark.’  I took the word and created a people who are sharks that can appear as human.  That’s key.  They are not humans shifting into sharks; they are sharks masquerading as humans on land.

Why did you have many of your characters speak in Hawaiian Pidgin English?  What difficulties did that present?

In Hawaii, language can immediately identify you as an insider or an outsider.  As a kid on Maui, everyone spoke a heavy one-generation-from-the-sugar-plantation version of Pidgin, including the teachers.  The only time I spoke standard English was at home.  Growing up, Pidgin was the language of friendships and secrets. If you travel to Hawaii as a tourist, chances are you won’t hear anything but proper English and a phrase or two in Hawaiian.  Speaking Pidgin—or even just having a bit of accent in your English—instantly identifies you as belonging.  Most Pidgin speakers can spot another speaker in an instant, even if the person talking hasn’t lived in Hawaii for decades.  The way my characters talk in One Boy, No Water is authentic to the way locals talk in Hawaii when they are among friends and family.

Of course, using Pidgin dialogue and still conveying what’s going on to non-Pidgin speaking kids was tough. Fortunately, since kids are constantly acquiring new vocabulary, they’re pretty adept at figuring out meaning from context.  I consciously chose to use a version of Pidgin that’s more typically spoken today, more heavily based in English that what I spoke on Maui, and cheated a little by using standard English spelling which often doesn’t mirror how Pidgin sounds.  However, to keep it real I tried to maintain Pidgin’s rhythms and grammar, with the hope that  non-Pidgin readers get the gist of “more better we go library later; the waves stay pumping now,” and Pidgin speakers reading the same words hear “mo’bettah we go li’barry latahs, da waves stay pumpin’ now” in their heads.  As a last resort, I wrote a glossary and included it in the back of the book.

What is one event in your book that was most riveting to you and why?

There’s scene in the book where Uncle Kahana tells the story of a shark attack he witnessed as a child from a toro boat.  The inspiration for that scene came from an infamous fatal shark attack that happened off Lanikai beach in 1958.  Six boys ranging from 9-15 years old were resting on surfboards and air mattresses in choppy water and had a small toro boat anchored nearby.  A large tiger shark estimated between 15 and 25 feet silently bit the leg off one of the boys.  None of the other kids realized it until he started drifting away from the group.  As a teenager I heard this story and its unpublished details from people who had been there. This beach was literally my Dad’s backyard, these were his friends, and the death of Billy Weaver affected him and the rest of Hawaii profoundly for decades.

In the book I tried to capture the horror of a Jaws-sized shark silently and efficiently killing and what I imagined it must have been like for a kid in the toro boat off  Lanikai beach to watch people he cared about choosing to stay in the water where a gigantic shark was circling in order to save their friend. I combined these images with the idea that the shark knew what it was doing and that the whole incident could have been avoided if people had only followed the ancient kapu or fishing restrictions.  The scene is chilling to me on many levels, and I hope it rivets readers as well.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

That it’s impossible to write anything well unless you clearly define your audience.  One Boy, No Water and the Niuhi Shark Saga started out as an adult novel called Like One Fish Out of Water. It ballooned over the years, in fits and starts, was way too complicated and meandering, and never went anywhere until I made some concrete decisions: 1) how I was going to handle Pidgin; 2) that I was telling the story to kids; 3) that the kids I wanted to excite about the story were specifically those who didn’t like to read because they’d never read a book with characters who lived and talked like they do.  Once those things were decided, it all fell into place.
Taken on Maui during Washburn family vacation 2005!

Many thanks, Lehua, for sharing a little of Hawaii--and yourself--with us today.  

Or perhaps we should say, "MAHALO!"

 I'm feeling warmer, already.  
A little Background on our Guest:

Lehua Parker is originally from Hawaii and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools and Brigham Young University. So far she has been a live television director, a school teacher, a courseware manager, an instructional designer, a sports coach, a theater critic, a SCUBA instructor, a poet, a web designer, a mother, and a wife. Her debut novel, One Boy, No Water is the first book in her MG/YA series the Niuhi Shark Saga. She currently lives in Utah with her husband, two children, four cats, two dogs, six horses, and assorted chickens. During the snowy Utah winters she dreams about the beach.

Here's how you can connect with her.  Do it.  You'll enjoy every minute.

Facebook author page:
Twitter: @LehuaParker
Goodreads: Lehua Parker

Monday, November 12, 2012


         It’s time to blog again.  This is kind’a like flossing; the time to do it comes regularly, whether you want to do it or not.  I suppose I should be writing more about Trona, because the time is drawing near for the publication of our book, (Pitch Green) and that would help sales for the book.  (I’m assuming both of the readers of this blog will buy our book when it comes out.)  And, I love Trona, and am glad that is where we placed the setting for our story.  It is a desolate, scary place, just perfect for the type of horror story we are writing, (discovering, formulating, finding?).
Scott as a robot for Trick or Treats.
            But, I’m just not getting Trona vibes, right now.  Berk has a lot of Trona stories to tell.  Hopefully he will post another one soon.  I have written a scary fictional story that has as its setting Trona.  That will probably be my next post.
            My wife suggested I write about the joys of being a grandparent.  Sounds like a suggestion a wife would make, doesn’t it?  However, if you are not a grandparent, you are not really going to understand, and if you are a grandparent you don’t need me to explain to you what it is like.  Besides, that’s the kind of happy fluff a wife would like her husband to be able to write about, but that I’m not quite capable of doing, just yet, (or ever).  Of course that won’t stop me from putting up some pictures.  Yes, I am that kind of grandpa.
            A few years back my wife asked me to write a romance novel about a couple who had been married for over 30 years; like us.  I wrote one.  My wife read it and said it was nothing like what she wanted.  She hopes I don’t publish it.  We’ll see.

            Having just flown, I was going to write about what a miserable experience that always is; how the airlines, TSA and the airports all conspire together to make flying such an absolute miserable experience.  Everything is simplified and organized in such a way, at the expense of the flying public, to the benefit of the not too bright employees of the above three entities.  (Please notice, Miss Coulter, we don’t use the “R” word!).  Oh, that's Gracie, she likes Oreo Cookies.  (So do I!)

            But, you all know all about that, and nothing anyone says is going to change it, so why bother getting worked up about it now?  (OK, just one word, to the airlines, because airports don’t care and TSA won’t listen: just take a fraction, a freaking fraction, of your advertising budget and spend it on a study that would show how to make flying just a little less miserable, and yes, I am using the word “miserable” over and over again on purpose.)

            I could write about how I came to have a slight Diet Coke addiction.  Because drinking Mountain Dew would be gauche.  ( There, that’s done.  (Evan likes the tool belt Grandma and Grandpa got for him). 

            Oh look, I’ve used up all the space I allow myself in writing a blog.  I can’t believe I wrote a whole blog about nothing.  Again.  (Berk, keep posting!)  But there we are.
            Next time I will write something about Trona.  And Madi, don't worry, I'll post your picture soon.

Friday, November 9, 2012


         Lehua Parker's new book, "One Boy, No Water" was released September 29, 2012.  She'll be visiting our blog next week, and you'll be able to meet this fun lady, otherwise known as "Aunty Lehua."

Review: One Boy, No Water by Lehua Parker

            Alexander Kanoakai Westin, “Zader” for short, is not your typical 11 year old boy, though his concerns are fairly ordinary.  He has a bully out to get him, an allergy that marks and isolates him from his peers, a mother whose protectiveness makes him appear ridiculous and real worries that his grades will keep him from going to an elite prep school with his adoptive “twin” brother.
            But Zader, growing up on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, is anything but ordinary.  Abandoned newly born, he was found by Kahana and his dog, ‘Ilima, lying on a hard spur of lava jutting out into the water where a huge Niuhi shark circled.  When Kahana realizes the child was born already armed with a tooth and carrying a strange birthmark on his back, he takes him to his niece, Liz.  Not only has Liz just had her own son, Jay, but Kahana is sure this newborn is ‘ohana—family—and therefore now his responsibility.
            Welcoming Zader into their hearts and home, his adoptive family soon discovers Zader’s strange allergy.  Even a drop of water causes him excruciating pain as his skin blisters into weeping sores, and then eerily heals into ashy flakes.  This is Hawaii, where it rains almost every day and life revolves around the beach.  His mom makes Zader carry an umbrella with him everywhere, which only makes him even more the butt of jokes.  Other mothers worry Zader isn’t safe for their children to be around.
            Hidden secrets also plague Zader.  He suspects Uncle Kahana knows some of them, but his uncle isn’t telling.  Every year on his birthday, someone sends Zader an expensive present.  A Dream Girl haunts his nightmares along with the mysterious man that the Dream Girl calls Kalei—a scary man with too many teeth.
            As Zader tries to help his surf crazy brother with a sudden fear of sharks, Zader works out ways to deal with his own challenges.  This first book in the Niuhi Shark Saga hints that those challenges are only beginning.
            This summary cannot hope to convey the magic of One Boy, No Water.  Like sunlight glinting off the top of an incoming wave, ready to crest, Lehua Parker’s writing shouts this is THE wave to catch, the one to ride all the way in.  With the first page, Ms. Parker plunges the reader into Zader’s world with wit, warmth, and Hawaiian Pidgin English.  Her expert unfolding of Zader and the people in his life as well as the worries and mysteries he faces, all become a lure that eventually sets the hook.

            Where can you find this wonderful book?  Released just in time for the holidays, Lehua Parker’s One Boy, No Water is available online from Barnes & Noble and Amazon, in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook, as well as anywhere books are sold.

I’m still trying to figure out how to get a signed copy for my grandkids (and me).  Ms. Parker has a book signing next week in Layton, Utah.   My sister-in-law lives nearby.  Hmm...

Catch the wave! 


Tuesday, November 6, 2012


            The idea was born on a blistering hot afternoon.  Sweat painted a dark line down the back of my T-shirt as I dug a trench through the cement-hard Mojave Desert caliche hiding under the thin topsoil.  My new friend, Barry Edwards, and I had gotten a summer job with a local landscaper.  Digging trenches for sprinkler lines was back breaking work.
            That summer before my senior year of high school, my family moved from Trona, California to Ridgecrest, 25 miles away.  Dad said I could drive back to Trona during the school year to graduate from Trona High, but all my old haunts and friends were gone for the summer with only dry mountainous desert stretching between us.  I was stuck making a whole new set of friends in Ridgecrest.
            The solution came with Barry Edwards and his pickup truck.
            That day, as we chipped our way down the trench, one of the other workers cocked his head at Barry’s 1960 something Ford pickup that we used to travel back and forth between jobs.  
            “You know, if you got the right year of truck, the width of the axle is the exact same width as the railroad tracks.  If you do it right, you can drive on the rails.”
            That’s all it took.  Barry and I looked at each other.  “Let’s go see if your truck fits,” I said.  He smiled, and we pushed the guy for any additional information we could get.
            Our work day started around 4 am to beat the heat and often ended around 3 or 4 pm. After work we had the afternoon free, so we drove out into the desert on a dirt road we knew led to an isolated railroad crossing.  We didn’t want anyone watching and the dirt crossings had more gradual drop-offs.  I jumped out and Barry maneuvered the truck back and forth in the intersection until it was perpendicular to the road, heading in the same direction as the rails.  With both hands waving, I guided him in, shouting, “This way, no that way a little, good, good ... come straight,” until all 4 tires had rolled out onto the tracks, the middle of each tire settling perfectly on the middle of a rail.  Success!
            Hopping inside, I said, “Remember, once we’re on the rails, you can’t steer or you’ll drive us off the tracks.”  Barry nodded, hands off the steering wheel, and slowly pushed down on the gas pedal until we were going about 20 miles an hour.  The tracks curved gradually and then started up a hill.  We exchanged looks, but with a little more gas we purred up that hill like we were riding on glass.  We were literally on a roll, and got that buggy up to 55 mph!  We didn’t dare go faster.  We cruised along, windows rolled down, radio blasting, scrolling the wind with our hands and watching the jack rabbits jump out of the bushes that covered both sides of the 10 foot high mound of the rail bed.
            Barry peered through the windshield, then pointed.  We could see the faint trace of another dirt road cutting across the line of our tracks.  Another railroad crossing.  We worried the tires would pop off the rails inside the intersection, but we sailed on through.  By the time the next intersection loomed in the distance, however, we decided we didn’t want to push our luck.
            “Better get the speed down,” Barry said, and took his foot off the gas.  The brakes on Barry’s truck were old and pulled to one side, so we didn’t dare brake.  By the time we got to the crossing we were going pretty slow, and with a touch of the brake and a careful steer Barry slipped us off those rails onto the dirt road.
            Next day at work, we both agreed, “Let’s do it again!”  This time we positioned a big flat rock against the gas pedal with one end resting on the hump in the middle of the truck floor and the other lying on the floor below the pedal.  By scooting the rock further up onto the gas pedal, we could control the gas.  Once we’d leveled our speed out at about 35 mph, we scrambled out the side windows, climbing carefully on the slick metal to sit on the roof of the cab, our legs dangling down on the windshield, our .22 rifles beside us.  We hadn’t forgotten those jack rabbits.
cc doug wertman/flickr
            The breeze swept our hair back and the whole Mojave Desert stretched on every side.  With no one working the gas, the pickup slowed down when we climbed hills and gained speed on the downward side, but otherwise drove itself.  After cruising and shooting at jack rabbits for about an hour, we noticed a tunnel looming up ahead.  Not thinking much about it, we rode inside.  Pitch blackness enveloped us.
            “Uhh, we need lights,” Barry said, and inched over to carefully climb inside the cab and switch on the headlights.  Deep black stretched beyond the reach of our light beams with no end in sight.
            “So what happens if we meet a train?” Barry asked. 
            I shook my head in the dimness.  “Don’t know.  No way off in here.”
            For a couple miles we rode the tunnel, eyes and ears alert for the stabbing light and clicking of rails that would signal an approaching train.  The only thing we could agree upon when we barreled out into the light was, “That was dumb.”
            Barry got to work and talked to people he knew around town who worked with the railroad, getting an idea of schedules and when trains wouldn’t be running on the tracks.  Not fail proof, but good enough for our purposes.
            Our next question was, “Who do we want to invite?”
            Their first responses were always the same.
            “Are you kidding?”
            “No, we ride the rails all the time.  It’s great.  Bring your .22 and some chips or pop.”
            A slow smile would come with belief, telling us we had another convert.
            The big flat rock stayed permanently in Barry’s truck that summer.  I don’t know when he finally threw it out.
            I made great friends in Ridgecrest.  Not all wanted to brave the slippery path to the top of the cab, choosing instead to slide out the door and climb around into the truck bed.  We spent many hours perched on the outside of the driverless truck, shooting, munching, and ridin' the rails.