Posts Tagged ‘Hiking’


“Do not go where the path may lead,

go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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My husband and I travel to the incredible state of Utah as often as we can. We’re drawn to its amazing geology, its truly awesome canyons and slickrock.

Here are some pictures from a recent Thanksgiving trip (with my apologies to the REAL photographers out there):

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I quit reading a book recently because I found 6 natural history errors in less than 2 pages.

Without really trying!


In one section of this book, the author is describing the desert outside of Phoenix, AZ.

1. She talks about a “…flock of canyon wrens…” Canyon wrens are normally solitary (or hang out in pairs at most).

2. She mentions a Common Flicker. No bird is named “Common Flicker.”  There are Northern (red- and yellow-shafted) Flickers and Gilded Flickers.

3. She mentions a Harris Hawk. It’s Harris’s Hawk.

4. She mentions a Mexican Jay. A Mexican Jay’s normal territory is SE AZ, not central.

5. She talks about a Teddy Bear cholla (cactus) “jumping out” to latch on to someone. This is a myth. It doesn’t happen.

6. The author mentions a “plump” saguaro on one page, and the main character talks about how brown the desert is on the next. My take is either it’s Spring and therefore the desert is green and the saguaro plump. Or the desert is brown and the saguaro isn’t plump.

I might give a little on 4 (maybe the Mexican Jay was out of its normal territory) and 6 (maybe they’d had a big rain late in the dry season).

In the same area of the book, the author’s character meets a javelina which she calls a “pig.” I was suspicious, but had to look it up to be certain: javelinas are peccaries, not pigs. But again, it took me less than 2 minutes to find the answer on-line.

On the same page, the woman character picks up her 75-pound bloodhound, slings it around her neck “fireman-style” and “runs” to find her friend. I used to carry a thirty-five pound pack and thought it was fairly heavy. I thought for a woman to sling 75 pounds around her neck was highly improbable. I find a 50 pound bag of dog food cumbersome and heavy.

I asked my husband who was a true hard-core hiker/backpacker in his younger days. He said a 75-pound pack is heavy and difficult. You have to walk leaning forward for balance.

With all due respect to the rest of my gender, it’s so unlikely as to be improbable that a woman could and would do this and run no less (unless she’s some kind of Olympic weight-lifter).

In another part of the book, the author  calls the snow they receive at about 6500 feet in elevation (presumably in the summer) a “freak of nature.” Anyone who lives or has spent any amount of time at altitude knows it can snow–significantly–any time of the year.

The author lives in New England, about as polar opposite as you can get to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. A lack of first-hand knowledge is understandable. But that’s what airplanes and the internet and reference books and fact checkers are for.

I served on a Search and Rescue team for almost 12 years. In this same book, the main character has a search dog. The author’s poor handling of that subject is a whole other blog.

When I noticed the first error, I took note and moved on. With the errors regarding birds all in the same sentence, I quit reading and simply skimmed through the rest of the book looking for more mistakes.

I never finished reading it and I probably won’t pick up another book by this author.

These remarks may seem harsh and I acknowledge I’m a perfectionist (okay, okay…anal retentive) when it comes to natural history (and other things). Errors are inevitable, and not every reader will catch or suspect these errors or even care!


Lesson #1: There are readers out there who do care, even with a fiction piece, when errors are made or, more accurately, when lots of errors are made.

Lesson #2: Do your research!

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Dan Smith, Vail Mountain Search and Rescue, said the above about the many people who go ill-equipped and unprepared on dangerous hikes in Colorado’s mountainous terrain and get into serious trouble.

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Even among “experts,” there seems to be quite a bit of confusion (mostly on my part) about what a thriller is. And how does a thriller differ from a mystery?

I’ve heard several definitions, some contradictory.

I heard one definition at a writers’ conference: Mysteries are more cerebral with a puzzle (usually a murder) to solve; thrillers are more action-oriented.

Donald Maass in his great book, “Writing the Breakout Novel,” says that the plot events in thrillers have to accomplish 2 things: they need to be utterly believable and utterly incredible. High stakes are required whether they’re personal or global.

“Writers Market FAQ” by Peter Rubie explains that in Thrillers (and Suspense novels), the protagonist is constantly in danger.

I recently read that it’s a matter of the “stakes.” Is it a global story involving espionage, the fate of thousands if not millions of people, etc.?  Then it’s a thriller. If it’s smaller, more intimate, a more confined setting, it’s a mystery.

In “Don’t Get Dead,” my protagonist, Gracie Kinkaid, faces obstacles on three fronts. Two are physical: the elements (she gets stranded in a blizzard high in the mountains and must keep Rob Christian alive with very limited resources) and an unknown killer stalking her and Rob for unknown reasons. The third is emotional/psychological–she must battle her own self-doubts. The stakes are constantly raised, then raised again throughout until the final confrontation.

Which still doesn’t solve the problem: Is “Don’t Get Dead” a thriller or mystery?

My conclusion: Pick one. It’s whatever the person you’re dealing with (agent, editor, publisher) says it is. If they want to label it a mystery, that’s what it is. If they say it’s a thriller, then that’s what it is.

So, for the moment anyway, I’m plugging “Don’t Get Dead” as a mystery.

Any ideas? Suggestions? Opinions?

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Just how far would you go to save the life of someone you don’t know?

I’ve just finished my new book, Don’t Get Dead, a mystery about Search and Rescue expert, Gracie Kinkaid. who is caught in a sudden snowstorm in the mountains of Southern California. She has to fight to keep not only herself alive,  but also injured British movie star, Rob Christian. Her teammate has disappeared with the only radio, their food is running out, and the only thing between them and the storm is a makeshift shelter Gracie has built with a sheet of plastic. If that’s not bad enough, Gracie discovers the frozen body of one of Rob’s hiking partner, Tristan Chambers.  She realizes that not only has Tristan been murdered, but the killer is out there in the wild stalking Rob and Gracie.

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As promised, here are a few pages from my new novel, “Don’t Get Dead,” the first of the Gracie Kinkaid mysteries.



The body hung upside down in the truck, suspended by the seatbelt, sun-bleached hair hanging straight down to skim the roof of the cab.

The light from the headlamp strapped to Gracie’s forehead merged with that of Ralph Hunter’s mag flashlight to illuminate the interior of the crumpled pick-up that had shot off the road high above their heads and now lay upside down amid a jumble of rocks and vegetation on the desert floor.

“Well, as far as dead bodies go,” Gracie said, “this one’s in pretty good shape. At least it’s in one piece.”

Ralph grunted his agreement.

Thank God this guy was wearing his seatbelt, Gracie thought. She had seen the results of vehicles launching themselves off mountain roads and highways. Often times drivers wearing seatbelts walked away relatively unscathed from their impromptu four-hundred foot roller-coaster rides. Drivers not wearing seatbelts usually didn’t. As exhausted as Gracie was, retrieving body parts would definitely have sucked.

Gracie dug a piece of strawberry bubble gum from a side pocket of her pants and popped it into her mouth, dutifully tucking the wrapper back into the same pocket.

In spite of the heavy shadows of the truck’s interior, Gracie was able to discern that the victim was male and young, possibly still in his teens, and that there was little blood inside the cab or on the body itself. “He didn’t bleed out,” Gracie said as she tugged open the radio chest pack she wore and picked out a pair of purple latex gloves.

“Blunt force trauma probably knocked him out,” Ralph said, keeping his voice as bland and clinical as if they were sitting comfortably in a classroom discussing ropes rescue theory and not the cause of death of someone who hours before had been a breathing, laughing human being with a family, maybe a sweetheart, and dreams and a future. “Traumatic asphyxia. Died from hanging upside down in the seatbelt.”

Gracie snapped on the gloves. “First time I’ve seen someone actually die from wearing a seat belt.”

“Dead for sure without it.” Ralph swung the beam of his flashlight over so he could see Gracie’s face without shining it directly into her eyes. “You okay with this, Gracie girl?”

“Yes,” Gracie bit off. Then, “No!” followed by, “Yes! I need to be able to do this, dammit!”

“Okay then,” Ralph said, obviously taking her at her word. “Let’s open it up.”

Ralph slipped his heavy flashlight through a belt loop, then, donning his own pair of latex gloves, tugged on the passenger door handle of the upended truck. When the dented door resisted, he planted a dusty boot on the truck’s side panel and hauled with both hands until the door opened with an unearthly screech of metal on metal that raised the hair on the back of Gracie’s neck.

In what both rescuers knew was a formality, but had to be done regardless, Ralph leaned inside the cab and placed two fingers on the carotid artery of the young man’s neck, checking for any signs of life.

Gracie silently counted off the seconds until Ralph said in a low voice, “Nothing.”

He wrestled a thin wallet from the back pocket of the dead man’s jeans and held it out behind him. “ID.”

As Gracie grabbed the wallet and backed away from the truck, she became aware for the first time of muffled voices and occasional bursts of laughter filtering through the forest of Joshua trees behind her, signaling the arrival of the rest of the recovery team hefting in the litter–the orange plastic basket in which to transport the body–from one of the countless dirt roads that criss-crossed the desert flats.

Unoccupied, the Junkin litter was unwieldy and heavy. Day packs, body bag, daisy chains of woven nylon webbing, steel carabiners and other ropes rescue hardware tossed into the basket weighed it down even further. Another one hundred eighty pounds or so of dead weight translated into strained shoulders, arms and hands on the way out.

Gracie opened the wallet and zeroed the beam of her headlamp on the California driver’s license inside. A bright young face smiled back at her.


She snapped the wallet closed and shoved it into a side vest pocket.

“Deep breath,” she whispered to herself. “Do not feel anything. You have to get the job done.”

Her eyes slid over to the truck where Ralph was sifting through papers scattered inside the truck cab.

“Besides, you barf all over Ralphie’s boots again and your ass is grass.”

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