My favorite character: The stunning Sonoran Desert

I am an outdoors girl. I grew up roaming the woods and streams of Northern New Jersey. I hear some of you scoff, convinced, perhaps, that my home state is nothing but cars and concrete, but you couldn’t be more wrong. I grew up with forests to wander, mountains to ski on, and the ocean at the Jersey Shore.

I mention this because when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988, I simply wasn’t prepared for the wilderness I would find here. My novels are all based in this strange state, where one can sit poolside in the sun, then drive two hours north for a day on the ski slopes. Arizona has forests and mountains, and while there is, sadly, no shoreline from which to stare at the sea, there is the Sonoran Desert.

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Bi-yearly rainfall makes the Sonoran Desert more lush than other deserts.

It’s funny that when you search for deserts on the Internet what you often see is sand: vast quantities of the stuff. But the Sonoran Desert is completely different from its sister deserts worldwide. The area – approximately 100,000 square miles, spreading across southern Arizona and parts of California and Sonora, Mexico – is home to a vast array of plants and creatures.

Sonoran Desert near Salt River

Towering saguaro cactuses live nowhere else on earth.

The Sonoran Desert is more lush than other deserts because of bi-yearly rainfall, which occurs in both the summer and winter. Many of the plants and animals one encounters is this strange land are found nowhere else on earth.

The symbol of this exclusivity, of course, is the massive saguaro cactus, a giant that can sprout 40 feet into the air and live over 150 years, and is just one of the 2000 plants that have been identified in the area. Birds of all kinds thrive here – approximately 350 species have been identified in the Sonoran Desert – along with 60 species of mammals and 100 kinds of reptiles.

These creatures have adapted to extreme conditions. Daytime temperatures can soar above 120 degrees and fall to well below freezing at night. Pronghorns, roadrunners, big horned sheep, Gila monsters, coyotes, the now rare and elusive jaguar, the desert tortoise, and the amazing kangaroo rat that can spend its entire life without once drinking water are just a few of the creatures that call the Sonoran Desert home.

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Jaguars once roamed the Arizona wilds. Today sightings of the elusive cat are rare.

Almost immediately upon my arrival in Arizona, I began exploring this rugged land. (I am a rock collector and never miss an opportunity to stick my nose in the dirt.) I have stood in awe of the fragile beauty here, which is perhaps why the Sonran Desert has always been one of the main characters in my novels. As readers know, the setting is the soul of a story.

I count myself fortunate that a job oportunity transplanted me to this land three decades ago. Though the desert and I haven’t always gotten along – yes, I’ve been stranded a few times over the years – still, I always managed to find my way home.

Me in the desert

I am often awed by the diverse and fragile beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

I’ve learned that while the desert is beautiful, it can quickly turn treacherous, not unlike some human characters we’ve become acquainted with through books.

I write about the Sonoran Desert because it affords my characters the opportunity to grow and change while they interact with the world around them. And … I want my readers to get to know her better, so they too can appreciate the wonder of this place.

 

 

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

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Toss the alarm clock and move to island time

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Even without us, time moves on, thanks to the Earth’s rotation and its trip around the sun.

Time is a human construct. Of course, I’m not saying without us time wouldn’t exist. The Earth would still keep rotating, giving the planet a 24-hour day, and she would still revolve around the Sun to the tune of about 365 days each year, dragging our seasons through their paces in the process.

The time I’m talking about is the notion of time: being on time, having enough time, shaping the future using time. And … how we perceive time.

“Who cares if we’re on time?” my high school students often asked when I remark that they are tardy to class.

At that point, I ascend my soapbox. “You can never be late!” I expound. “When I was in high school, I was in a lot of plays. What if I wasn’t in my spot when the curtain rose? When I was in television working as a sportscaster, what if I wasn’t on the set when the cameras turned on? Athletes, if am scheduled to officiate your game and I show up late, how would you feel? When you are late to work, others have to do your job. Eventually, those people will not think very highly of you.”

A few kids nod their heads, but many do not.

It might surprise you to know that my nightmares, almost universely, have nothing to do with brain-eating zombies or something scary under the bed. No, mine are about being late, for a class, a game, a meeting, or a flight. All agonizing situations where I can’t get where I need to be on time.

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Sundials were the first tools used to measure time.

Humans began measuring time, we think, about 3,000 years ago. People used sundials, back then. The first mechanical clocks appeared in the 14th century, the same time pocket watches came into fashion. Wrist watches evolved in 1868 following the creation by Swiss watchmaker Patek Phillippe of a mostly decorative piece of jewelry designed for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. (For those younger types, note that a wristwatch is as the name implies: a timepiece to be worn on the wrist, a device that has gone out of style with the advent of the cellphone and the handy wee clock within.)

Let me admit here that I have, for most of my life, had a very solid belief in the structure of time. Now, with our current state of quarantine due to Covid-19, my view of time seems to have flipped on its head, because there are no classes for me to get to. No meetings. No commute. No dinner dates. No games. No swim at the health club. No appointments.

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Is there a worse sound than a blarring alarm clock when we’re asleep?

Big confession. I slept until 8 AM this morning, a far cry from my usual waking time of 5:30 AM, the moment once heralded by the wail of my alarm clock. (We can blame the horror of that contrivance on the Seth Thomas Clock Company which was granted a patent for the detestable bedside device in 1876.)

I have always hated my alarm clock. Before I became a teacher, I worked nights as a restaurant server, a reporter, and a sports official, and rarely utilized the mechanical monster to wake. I always swore that, once I retired from teaching, I would destroy the offensive timepiece with a smashing blow from a big hammer.

But it seems I might not have to. Now, the beast with the glowing digital face sits benignly by my bed. With no place to go, its services are not needed. I rise whenever it suits me, which makes me feel a bit naughty, though not quite as naughty as those afternoon naps, but I digress.

Here’s the thing. Time is all about perception. If you don’t believe me, consider the difference between 30 minutes of a root canal and 30 minutes of a massage. Same 30 minutes either way, but one certainly seems a lot longer than the other.

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I’ll have to practice some more, but I think living on island time might work out just fine.

Today, since I have little to do, I sense my timely standards slipping away. I tell myself that, since I’m retiring from teaching in May and have already hung up my football whistle, that perhaps loosening my bonds with time is OK.

And that makes me think of the islands I’ve visited on my scuba-diving adventures over the years. Time is a different animal in places where palm trees flutter above white sand beaches and the colors of the sea blend from turquoise to blue to sliver, if you sit, relax, and watch. They call it “island time,” inferring that you can never be late, that things will come together when they do, and there is no need to worry about it.

Actually, I like that idea. Still … I need some more time to practice.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

 

 

 

Domestic violence: stand up and say no more

OIP-1According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, “nearly 1 in 4 adult women and approximately 1 in 7 men in the U.S. report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

The often-silent scourge of domestic violence invades all walks of life and, though the poor are disproportionately affected, no one is immune.

The protagonist in my new novel, Wild Horses on the Salt, is a young woman fleeing an abusive husband. The life of Rebecca Quinn seems idyllic from the outside. She is a smart attorney with a handsome, successful spouse. She comes from wealth and privilege. And yet, Becca is repeatedly brutalized by her husband.

Often, when talking about domestic violence, people say, “Just leave! Get away!” And with someone like Becca, who is both financially well-off and has a successful career – both of which would afford an escape route – there is an underlying assumption that perhaps the victim is to blame. But leaving an abusive relationship is not that easy.

Scared FaceThere are numerous life situations that can lead to becoming a victim of domestic violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sites the following factors: “stress, anxiety, and antisocial personality traits … belief in strict gender roles; and other behavioral risk factors such as prior perpetration and victimization … such as peer violence, a history of substance abuse, a history of delinquency, and hostile communication styles.”

The CDC also points out that children who witness domestic violence at home are much more likely to seek out companions who behave that way. “(C)hildhood history factors such as exposure to violence between parents, experiencing poor parenting, and experiencing child abuse and neglect, including sexual violence,” all can lead to the cycle of violence being passed between generations.

Becca is one such victim. She has spent her life watching her mother be abused by her father. As is often the case in real life, she is informed by her battered mother that this behavior is to be kept private to protect the family’s reputation. Abuse is something one must endure in silence.

I have spent the last two decades as a teacher in a Title I high school, a designation denoting that most of my students live in poverty, with many being victims of abuse and neglect.

“My boyfriend beats me,” one child shared.

“You can’t permit that,” I responded.

She shrugged her shoulders. “But he loves me.”

I wanted to say I didn’t understand, but I did. Twice in my life, I suffered abuse at the hands of a partner. Like Becca, I had a college education and came from relative affluence. And yet, I stayed for long periods of time in these relationships, the reality of which I sometimes shared with my students.

“You, Ms. Montgomery?” They would scoff at the notion that I could have been a victim of abuse.

“Yes, it can happen to anyone,” I explained. “The question is why do we allow it?”

In my case, insecurity played a part. I was obese as a child and was sometimes bullied, even by family members. “It’s not my fault,” my mother would say to strangers she felt were staring at me. “I feed her fish and salad with no dressing!”

Though I wanted to respond, “I’m fat, not deaf,” I never did.

The fact that I grew out of my obesity and would be successful in high school and college did not eliminate the anxiety I felt about my body. I was also a low-level dyslexic. One day, my mother spat out, “You have the lowest IQ of all my children!” The fact that I struggled with reading and math lead to my brother making me a wager. “You’ll never make it through freshman year in college,” he said. “You’re too stupid.”

OIP-5My siblings and I were beaten with belts, kitchen utensils, and shoes, and periodically witnessed harrowing verbal confrontations between our parents. One fight involving a butcher knife terrified me to such an extent that I ran away from home.

I’m not saying that everyone who struggles as a child will become a victim of domestic violence, I am suggesting that our life experiences can nudge us one way or the other.

When I was 24, my parents traveled to Washington DC and took me out to lunch, an intervention that, in retrospect, I should have seen coming.

“We don’t know what to say when friends ask us what you’re doing,” my mother said.

“Tell them I’m a sports official on my way to becoming a sports reporter.”

“You’re a waitress!” My mother pursed her lips in disgust. “That is not what we sent you to college for!”

“I have a plan. I will learn the sports by officiating, so I can be a competent sports journalist,” I said. “My bosses at the restaurant understand and schedule around my games. I know somewhere there is a news director who will give me a chance.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” My mother crossed her arms. “Your father and I are willing to send you back to college. You could be a teacher.”

“I don’t want to be a teacher. I want to be a sportscaster.”

My parents left that day and I would not see or speak to them for several years. Around that time, I became involved with a wealthy man, and when he began putting me down, telling me I was “nothing but a waitress”, it should not be surprising that I believed him. He didn’t want me to work and gradually cut me off from others. His verbal abuse soon bloomed into physical violence and threats: “I’d rather see you dead than with another man!” and “Look at the trees,” he’d point through the kitchen window at the backyard. “I could bury your body out there and no one would ever find you.”

I had no money and nowhere to go. My friends thought he was wonderful and would have been stunned by the reality of the existence I was too embarrassed to share. On the few occasions I tried to leave, he terrified me into staying, one time with a gun perched menacingly on his lap. At one point, I admitted to myself that the last thing I would see was him barricading the doorway.

So, what changed? I was able to get a job as a sportscaster, which afforded me a paycheck and a place of my own. Astonishingly, the end came simply. He’d traveled to my home for a visit.

“I’m afraid of you. I don’t know how not to be.” I covered my face with my hands and waited. I was stunned when he left without a word. I never saw him again.

A few years later, I found myself in another long-term relationship and was again a victim of abuse. This time, I was the breadwinner, a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN. But when that job ended and my income dried up, I became a “useless f-ing loser”. It would be years before I extracted myself from that relationship.

OIP-4Here’s what I now know. I will never again allow anyone to put me down or lay their hands on me in anger. It’s not easy to stand up and say no more, but we must. The only way that can happen is education. We need to stop this cyclical horror at the root, which means adults must stop showing their children that abuse is OK.

“When was the first time you ever hit someone?” a student asked me recently.

“Never,” I said.

Several children laughed.

“No one should ever strike another person unless it’s in defense of yourself or another,” I explained.

Eyes around the classroom questioned me, children who probably witnessed domestic violence on a regular basis.

I can’t help but worry about them.

 

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The debate about wild horses

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Wild horses roam the area around Arizona’s Salt River where their existence is controversial.

Recently, I announced the upcoming release of my new novel Wild Horses on the Salt. Their are a number of facets to this story, including the ongoing plight of America’s wild horses.

Ancient horses once roamed the Americas beside wooly mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, dire wolves, and other large mammals. Then, at the end of the Pleistocene 12,000 years ago, the climate had cooled and Equus caballus disappeared, the result of mass extinctions.

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Had horses not migrated along the Bering Strait land bridge 12,000 years ago, we would only know them as fossils today.

And yet, today, the horse survives. It was the land bridge between North America and Asia that spared the horse from being nothing but a fossil, a creature cast only in stone.

Horses crossed into Asia, where ancient man domesticated the elegant beast 5,500 years ago on the grasslands of what would become Ukraine.

It was not until 1493, when Christopher Columbus arrived in what is today the Virgin Islands, that horses again touched ground in the Americas. The progeny of these animals brought by European explorers escaped, bred, and ranged across the continent.

Though millions of wild horses once roamed free in the United States, today approximately 82,000 remain. Because their ancestors were brought here by explorers, there are some who believe these animals are an invasive species, a creature that should be culled to safeguard native fauna, fragile grasslands, and riparian habitats. Others believe the wild horse should be defended, protected, and allowed to roam free.

The debate is ongoing.

 

51TMG11M-rL

A woman flees an abusive husband

and finds hope in the wilds of the Arizona desert.

Rebecca Quinn escapes her controlling husband and, with nowhere else to go, hops the red-eye to Arizona. There, Gaby Strand – her aunt’s college roommate – gives her shelter at the Salt River Inn, a 1930’s guesthouse located in the wildly beautiful Tonto National Forest.

Becca struggles with post-traumatic stress, but is enthralled by the splendor and fragility of the Sonoran Desert. The once aspiring artist meets Noah Tanner, a cattle rancher and beekeeper, Oscar Billingsley, a retired psychiatrist and avid birder, and a blacksmith named Walt. Thanks to her new friends and a small band of wild horses, Becca adjusts to life in the desert and rekindles her love of art.

Then, Becca’s husband tracks her down, forcing her to summon all her strength. But can she finally stop running away?

Kindle Pre-orders available at:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085ZX1WCZ?tag=creati0a5-20

Paperback Pre-orders will be available soon.