One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guest Interview: Jeannie Mobley on landscape and her new novel SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS Part 2

Jeannie Mobley is back for part 2 of her interview!  And it is is a real treat; a walk through some Colorado history via the most gorgeous landscape… Don't miss the last part of the interview, where Jeannie tells us a little about her childhood, ladies underwear ads, and why she feels like she discovers stories. I know her ideas will stay with me for a long time. First, though, a recap about her novel, SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS:

Set in a small Colorado town at the dawn of World War I, the story centers around Pearl, who helps her mother run the family café. She entertains customers with the story of a legendary dancer name Silverheels who nursed miners through a smallpox epidemic. Her neighbor, Josie, makes fun of her though, and challenges Pearl to find proof that Silverheels was, indeed, such a saintly person or…help Josie pass out her suffragette pamphlets. As Pearl searches for the truth about Silverheels she discovers more about her town than she bargained for. History, romance and intrigue are woven together in this beautiful story!

Tam: The novel takes place during World War I, is that right?  Can you explain to us how this time period, plus the legend, are preserved within the landscape?  Can you walk us through some of the photos you have here?

Jeannie: Yes, my story is set in World War I. It's interesting that you ask how it is preserved in the landscape, because that's something I didn't really know until I started working on this book. I picked World War I as the time period because I wanted to emphasize women's issues and the home front during a war. The suffrage movement in that particular war really worked well to do that. However, I had no real idea what impact, if any, the war had on Colorado. What I learned was that there was a zinc boom – zinc was used in the shell casings for bullets and was in short supply. Mining in the Colorado mountains had fallen off in the late 1800s with the crash in silver prices, but there was a resurgence of mining, because there was zinc in the old tailings of silver and gold mines. So during World War I, miners flocked back to abandoned mines, to re-process the old tailings piles.

Tam: I didn't know that!

Jeannie: Of course, Colorado's other big industry, in addition to mining, has always been tourism, and tourism took a down turn during the war, much to the consternation of my main character Pearl, who makes her spending money off of tourists.

But I digress from your question. I'd love to take you on a tour of Como, Colorado, where Pearl lives.

Today Como is a town of only 200 residents, most of them only there for the summer. In Pearl's day it was larger, as a major hub for the railroad, with dividing branches that ran over Boreas Pass to Breckenridge, and the main branch that continued south to Fairplay. Several historic features associated with the railroad still stand in the town:

The old depot itself, currently being restored with State Historic Funds (this picture was taken in the summer of 2013, when restoration had just begun.)

The old railroad hotel, which has been purchased by a British expat, and partially restored to run as a small bed and breakfast. I highly recommend the bread pudding! My husband and I stayed there on the weekend of our 25th wedding anniversary, in a room that just happened to have a hint of Silverheels on the bedside table.

Many other old buildings are found in Como, including the historic roundhouse, for moving engines to and from different rail lines, and even this old building, across the street from the train station:

Today, it is a small store, but I learned on my visit to Como in 2013 that it served as a lunch counter in the 1920s, and served lunch to people from the train, much as Pearl's café does in my fictionalized version of the town. Somewhere between those two dates, it had yet another use, and the word "Saloon" is still just barely visible in paint above the windows.

Another series of scenes in SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS takes place in the Buckskin Joe cemetery, where rumor has it, the ghost of Silverheels has been seen in black veil and black dress, walking among the graves of the miners who died in the epidemic.

I cheated a little in my book, and actually moved the location of Buckskin Joe from the south side of Mount Silverheels, near the town of Alma, to the north side, near Como. I wanted Pearl to live in a town near Buckskin Joe (which would be Alma), but it was also important for the story that she be in the railroad town (which was Como). So in the end, I chose Como, and shifted Buckskin Joe to make it close enough for Pearl to visit in an afternoon.

However the cemetery still exists at Buckskin Joe. Marble and granite headstones mark many graves, but the oldest ones are marked by an outline of cobbles and a wooden cross, as I describe in the book.

Most of the crosses are unreadable, but some have had the name scratched back onto the wood when the graves have been tended, another detail I replicated in the story: 

I also drew on my explorations of the Como cemetery, with which I'm more familiar. Cemeteries, in general have an interesting, remembering quality to the air, a feeling of accumulated memory that seems to permeate them, and that I try to remember when I write those scenes. This view of the Como cemetery was clear in my mind when I wrote the overall description in the book: 

What I did not include in my book, were the many, many poignant markers, like this one, that show how hard life was in the early 20th century in the Colorado Rockies:

Finally, my tour of Pearl's world would not be complete without a visit to Mount Silverheels, Colorado's 99th tallest mountain at an elevation of 13,822 feet.

The summit of Mount Silverheels is not as visible from Como as I make it out to be in my book – another geographic liberty I took. A smaller mountain blocks the direct view of the peak, though the lower slopes of the mountain are right there. However, just a few miles out of Como, the view of the summit is stunning.

There is also supposedly a trail to hike the mountain, not far out of town, and in an ambitious moment last summer, my husband and I decided we would climb the peak. But though we found the sign directing us to the trail, we never quite managed to find the trail itself. It turns out our twenty-year-old forest service map was grossly inaccurate on the matter of trailheads and access roads.

On our random search for the trailhead, we did encounter this abandoned bit of mining equipment:

We also found a meadow filled with elephant's heads, one of my favorite Colorado wildflowers. They always remind me of my grandmother – I'm not sure why, though I suspect she must be the one who pointed out to me the little elephants all up and down the stalk.

In the end we attempted a cross country assault on the mountain, which we started much too late in the day, and was further slowed by a bad choice of route and some brutal scrambling through down timber.  We didn't get much past timberline before turning back (at about 12,000 feet above sea level, and still nearly 2,000 feet in elevation, and quite a few miles in hiking distance, below the summit) but we did take the opportunity to take a terrible, sweaty, selfie. Memo to self: do not use your camera while oxygen deprived.

And finally, on our way back down the mountain, we encountered a sage hen, who led us off into a forest away from her chicks and directly into a field full of these beauties – Rocky Mountain Columbine, the Colorado state flower, and another personal favorite. 

So despite our failure as mountain climbers, it was a lovely day all around.

Tam: Oh my gosh.  I really feel like you whisked me off on a tour!  While my whole body is buzzing with all of those details, let me ask you one final question.  What does the landscape in Searching for Siverheels mean to you, Jeannie?

Jeannie: Well, that's probably obvious for my "you asked for an inch, now here's a mile" response to your question above. This is a place near and dear to my heart, where everywhere you look, there is some glory to be discovered – simple small glories, of nature, or survival, or history.

 The landscape of this story is in the central part of Colorado, an area that I find exceptionally beautiful, but also a part of the state that holds many fond memories for me growing up. Memories I hope to keep building for years to come, too.

 My family camped and fished and played in this area from early in my childhood. I have one distinct memory of my sister and I hiking cross-country, only to come upon an old, falling-down miner's cabin, off on a remote ridge, far from anywhere. We poked around inside, and discovered, along with square-cut nails and broken glass in blue, green, and amber, that some lonely old miner had wallpapered the walls with the ladies underwear ads from the Sears and Roebuck catalog (circa 1920s or so). Things like that have always sent stories singing through my blood – made me feel like I am not making up stories so much as discovering them, everywhere that people have been before me. That everyone's story is crying out to be told. That people are colorful and quirky and funny and poignant, and that the world is a big, grand place of sweeping beauty – even when the beauty is in the form of old underwear ads on a cabin wall.

Tam: Thank you so much, Jeannie, for this rich exploration of central Colorado!  And for sharing so much of your time and you.

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Don't forget to post a comment for a chance to receive a copy of SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS!

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Jeannie Mobley writes both historical and contemporary middle grade fiction. Her debut novel, Katerina’s Wish (Aug 2012, Margaret K. McElderry Books (S&S)), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award in Juvenile Fiction. It is on the William Allen White Award Master List, and was selected by the Library of Congress to represent the state of Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.  Her second novel,Searching For Silverheels, released September 2, 2014. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and an anthropology professor at Front Range Community College, where she teaches a variety of classes on cultures past and present. Jeannie is represented by Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Guest Interview: Jeannie Mobley on landscape and her second novel SEARCHING FOR SILVERHEELS

We are thrilled, once again, to have Jeannie Mobley here with us, this time exploring her second novel, Searching For Silverheels. 

Set in a small Colorado town at the dawn of World War I, the story centers around Pearl, who helps her mother run the family café. She entertains customers with the story of a legendary dancer name Silverheels who nursed miners through a smallpox epidemic. Her neighbor, Josie, makes fun of her though, and challenges Pearl to find proof that Silverheels was, indeed, such a saintly person or…help Josie pass out her suffragette pamphlets. As Pearl searches for the truth about Silverheels she discovers more about her town than she bargained for. History, romance and intrigue are woven together in this beautiful story!

Jeannie is one of my favorite people in the world. As I found out the last time I interviewed her, we share a deep appreciation for landscape and the stories it holds. We are lucky to have her back here.

Tam:  Welcome back Jeannie! I am going to just jump right in!  I know from our last interview about your debut, Katerina's Wish, that landscape is really important to you; that you are able to center yourself and rejuvenate when you are in a quiet space in nature. You spoke about that Buddhist concept of distracting the senses in order to free the subconscious (I love this); that nature does that for you. Has this shifted at all? Changed? Deepened?  

Jeannie: Sadly, in the last few years, I haven't gotten out into nature much. I've been busy, preoccupied… I'm not exactly sure what I've been, life just somehow gets diverted and you don't realize how. 

Tam: I can relate to that…

Jeannie: But I still seek out nature in what little ways I can. I walk along the canals that run through town and enjoy the little micro-environment there, and I do most of my writing in my sunroom or on the back patio where I can at least look out at grass and trees, squirrels and bunnies. What I crave, though, is that quiet, alone time in nature. It's no coincidence that the idea for Searching For Silverheels came to me while driving alone across the state of Colorado, a 9 hour drive from the southwest corner to my home in the north central part of the state. Most of the drive is through rural, wild mountain areas, and on back roads instead of the interstate. And I can tell you exactly where on the drive the key ideas for the story hit me, the connection between the place and the story were that strong. Not long after it came to me, I actually pulled over at a rest stop on La Vita Pass, and sat out among the golden aspen trees (it was early October, and the peak of the fall color). 

Tam: Why?

Jeannie: I'm not sure if I did that to give thanks or to think. Mostly I just sat and gave myself over to the moment. I just needed to be in nature as a part of the process.

Tam:  Pearl is the main character in Searching For Silverheels. What does landscape mean to her?

Mount Silverheels
Jeannie: Pearl lives in the shadow of Mount Silverheels, in the small mountain town of Como, Colorado, which in 1917, when the story is set, was one of the biggest towns in Park County, with a whopping population of nearly 500. In other words, she is definitely a rural kid.  She doesn't spend a lot of time pondering landscape, but there are many little things in the story that show her connection to this place she lives in. She notices the fancy shoes of the city folks that come through on the train, and how they look like they've never stepped off pavement in their life. She wonders how tourists can worry about bears and wild animals as she rides out of town at twilight and feels soothed by the quiet of nature and the mother deer with their fawns in the meadows. She looks up at the bright sweep of the Milky Way at night (if you've never viewed the night sky at an elevation of 10,000 feet above sea level, in a place with no city lights, you really should put it on your bucket list!) and she reflects on the beauty and comfort of her world. And most definitely, she notices the changing moods of the mountain peaks around the town. She's a Colorado country kid at heart - just as I am.

Tam: Can you speak a little about the legend that Searching for Silverheels centers around?  The one about Mount Silverheels and the dance hall girl it was named after?

Jeannie: Silverheels was a dance-hall girl during the gold rush era in Colorado (the 1860s), famous for her beauty. In the harsh winter of 1861, she was in the town of Buckskin Joe when a smallpox epidemic hit. Doctors from Denver could not reach the town, and many of the healthy fled, but Silverheels stayed to nurse the sick and dying miners. Eventually, however, she contracted smallpox herself. She survived, but her face was badly scarred, and her legendary beauty ruined. The miners took up a collection for her, but when they took it to her cabin, she was gone. They searched, but found no trace of her, so they named the nearby mountain after her to show their gratitude.

Tam: Does the legend have any truth to it?

Jeannie: As for the truth behind the legend, that is uncertain. Different version put her in different towns, and various speculations have given her various real names (several of which appear in my story.) There is no independent historical record of the smallpox epidemic. Whether or not Silverheels herself was real, however, there are many well documented cases of dance-hall girls and prostitutes becoming nurses during epidemics in the west, so it isn't particularly improbable that the story is true. But like all good legends, it's probably been embellished as well.

Tam: In our last interview you articulated how being in a place that has a rich history makes you listen to the landscape. Have you been to the place where Silverheels is set? Did you do that there? Listen?

Jeannie: Yes, South Park, (the real South Park, where Como is found, not the TV version) is a place that I have loved all my life. My family traveled and camped there, and I've had so many amazing experiences there - watching golden eagles hunt, clambering around on mountainsides, stumbling blindly onto unique historical tidbits. So much to see, so much silence to listen to, such a deep yearning inside me. One place that I kept coming back to in my mind, a place where the silences are full and deep and saturated with stories, is the old cemetery at Como. In the story itself, Pearl and Frank visit the cemetery at Buckskin Joe, and I have been there too. But the way I describe it in my book is really more like the cemetery of Como, because  that place draws me in. 

Tam: When were you there?

Jeannie: I don't know when I first explored that cemetery. For a long time, I remembered it and thought about it, but didn't know where it was, it was just a memory that was so old, the kind of memory that you think sometimes might just have been a dream, strong, and ultra vivid, but disconnected from other memories. 

Tam: Yes!  One of those memories!  I've had those…

Jeannie: But the moment I stepped again into the Como Cemetery, I knew it - strong and familiar. 

Tam: Is the cemetery haunted?!

Como Cemetery
Jeannie: All old cemeteries are haunted - if not by ghosts, then by the memory of sadness and loss and love. You cannot read a headstone that gives the age of "3 months and 1 week" and not feel the pull of a mother's love and loss at your heart. Nineteenth and early twentieth century mountain cemeteries are especially poignant that way. It was hard to give birth and keep babies alive at an elevation of 10,000 feet above sea level, and the many graves of young wives, babies, and children attest to those struggles. 

But there is something comforting too, in the Como cemetery. The aspen trees create a rich, golden light, and nature is taking back over graciously, with tall grass, and wildflowers, and a gentle dappling of light and leaves. I think I'd rather be part of nature fading comfortably back into beauty when I die, rather than a stiff, mown lawn and sprinkler system. 

Tam: Duly noted!

How did you manage to create such a rich, true landscape when it is not here today for you to go visit, and research?  How did you gather and then articulate the details of this landscape? I asked this about Katerina's Wish, and I am curious about it with Silverheels too

Jeannie: I did less archival research with Silverheels than I did with Katerina, because the town of Como really hasn't changed much since Pearl's childhood. Also, my dad was an old railroad buff, and through him I already knew a lot of the history of Como and the railroad hub that existed there. I did, however, look at some historic photos of the town, and at some census data to get a sense of its size. But mostly, I gave Pearl my childhood love of the mountains and turned her loose in them, just as my parents turned me loose. Pearl is much more my childhood me - day-dreamy, romantically minded, and a bit afraid to stand up for herself - than Katerina is. That said, I also didn't try too hard to portray Como exactly as it was. I fictionalized the town to make it what I needed it to be. I wanted to be true to it in spirit, but not necessarily in the geography or layout of the town. So I was amazed (and a little weirded out) when I discovered that the building across from the train station really had been a lunch counter that served people off the train in the 1920s. I had just made up the café and the idea that that was how they got their main business, and then it turned out to be accurate.

Tam: I can totally picture that café and train station. And I want to picture more… Thank you for taking the time, Jeannie, to explore both your and Pearl's relationship to landscape, and for whetting our appetites with this teaser of a description of Como…

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Stay tuned! Next week Jeannie will take us on a tour of Pearl's world.  Don't miss it!  And don't miss a chance to win a copy of Searching For Silverheels either!  Just post a comment below (or next week) for a chance at this giveaway!

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Jeannie Mobley writes both historical and contemporary middle grade fiction. Her debut novel, Katerina’s Wish (Aug 2012, Margaret K. McElderry Books (S&S)), won the 2013 Colorado Book Award in Juvenile Fiction. It is on the William Allen White Award Master List, and was selected by the Library of Congress to represent the state of Colorado at the 2013 National Book Festival.  Her second novel, Searching For Silverheels, released September 2, 2014. When not writing or reading fiction, Jeannie is a mother, wife, lover of critters, and an anthropology professor at Front Range Community College, where she teaches a variety of classes on cultures past and present. Jeannie is represented by Erin Murphy of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


We're taking off the month of August, to wander and dream and lie in the grass~or at least dream of wandering through the grass on a sunny summer afternoon...
We'll leave you with this and see you in September!

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver
Who made the world? 

Who made the swan, and the black bear? 

Who made the grasshopper? 

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Landscape as Selfation

An encore of a late July post two years ago.  I have been thinking about ritual and the familiarity of the landscape around home and so I thought this would be a great one to bring on back

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I have been thinking a lot about landscape lately. Go figure. But these particular thoughts have been different. And I have been turning them over and over again like a pile of autumn leaves—gathering my thoughts, then jumping into them to see how they fly, then gathering them once again. This in part because I have been given the opportunity to write an essay about landscape and in part because of my recent conversation with Beth Kephart.

Much of what Beth said resonates for me. But especially this: I would suggest that what happens [when we become familiar with a place] relates to a sense of belonging.  When we belong somewhere, we can slow down, take note of receding details, stand there and watch the shadows without having to snatch up the exotica.  Time within a landscape yields a depth of understanding—of the place and of ourselves. Yes! Yes yes yes! I couldn’t agree more—I couldn’t feel the truth of this in my bones more—and I have been wondering why this is true.  I am especially curious about why, out in a landscape we know and love, we are able to gather that greater depth of understanding of ourselves.

My daughter recently reminded me the air we breathe was once inside the leaf of a tree. We inhale as the trees exhale. Such a simple truth, such a simple exchange, and yet—it means everything. It means we are connected.

I feel this connection when I go into my woods, and trek down to my river. I feel my senses—my ears and eyes and nose and skin—open wider and grow stronger. And in that open state, I am able to take in things like a broken egg in a nest, a pattern dug into the bark of a tree, a rock formation, a bee hovering over a flower—those small, amazing details that live in abundance throughout nature. I once spent a morning deciphering the footprints of a red fox along a trail, following it to the river where another fox joined it for a drink, and then back to the trail. By building a relationship with a place and organically allowing my senses to become wildly alive, I am then able to turn my attentions inward, to begin to recognize my own landscape, to take in one tiny detail that is a part of me. My relationship with landscape has been a pathway to my salvation—or my selfation as my husband recently coined. And this, I believe, is why.

We are able to mimic the way we see the details of landscape as we begin to find and name and celebrate the tiny parts of ourselves that make us who we truly are.

I would love to hear how other people find that depth of understanding of themselves…

With thanks and gratitude to you, Beth, and to you all.


Thursday, July 24, 2014


Since I finished the novel I’d been writing and it’s now out of my hands (hopefully being read out there, somewhere!) I’m doing what I always do while deciding what I want to write next—reading. A lot.

I’m reading for pleasure, for inspiration, for research (both projects I’m considering will take a good deal of research) and, as a book reviewer for BookBrowse, reading for work.

I just finished a book that fulfills all of these categories—Diane Ackerman’s fascinating, exciting and brilliant The Human Age. The book and the review don’t come out until mid-September, so I won’t give it away with spoilers, but let me tell you, I think EVERYONE is going to want to read this. (Hey, it’s all about US—humans—who doesn’t want to read about themselves?)


But, I am going to briefly talk about one of the many, many issues brought up in the book~


Ackerman says, that thanks to our modern technology “…the idea of cartography no longer applies only to landforms. We’ve mapped (everything from) galaxies and genomes…”

And then she goes on to talk about a new field called ‘interpersonal neurobiology.’ Only recently have scientists discovered that our human brains rewire themselves, create a new interior map, EVERYDAY. (Wow! Way to go, brain!) And that all of our experiences, but especially our relationships, effect change in the brain. On a daily basis. Of course, it should be no surprise that the relationships that have the biggest effect on our brains are our closest, most intimate relationships.

Scans show that our brains register traumatic physical pain in the same way and place they do grief, loss of love, rejection, bullying, and emotional abuse. Harsh words literally can create the same physical effect as a violent punch to the gut.

These scans also show that holding hands with a trusted, loving partner or friend significantly reduces the sensation of an administered physical pain, like an electric shock. It can also lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

So the question is, once this knowledge filters through the fabric of our social lives, will we behave better? Will we be kinder, more careful with our actions and words, knowing that anger, exclusion and rejection have the same effect as hitting someone in the face? I’m going to hope for a big yes.

Here’s to more handholding~

Take Good Care,