Uncial Press

The Uncial Letter

April2023

Judith B. Glad Remembers a Sunday Excursion...

We loaded the kids, a cooler full of Cokes, peanut butter sandwiches, and some sugary snacks into the station wagon on a sunny Sunday in late Spring. We'd read about the chalk beds near Harper, Oregon, about fifty miles away. They sounded interesting. Chalk was soft and easily carved. One of the kids—I can't remember which one—was in an artistic phase.

Off we went, after the usual fuss.

"Move over, you're crowding me."

"Eeuuwww! Cooties."

"Do I hafta sit clear in the back?"

"Who cares about some old rocks? 'Druther stay home."

The roads were crowded, probably because it was the first rain-free weekend in a month. Ours was an arid climate, but this Spring was anything but. By the time we reached the turnoff to Harper, Les was asleep, Rikki was carsick, and Lulu and Annie were not speaking, at my command.

After driving as far as Westfall—little more than a wide spot in the narrow road, but there was a general store and a post office—we followed a narrow, unimproved gravel trail, hoping that we'd find a good place to get some nice, carvable pieces of chalk. There were tire tracks, a bottle or two glinting in the cheatgrass on the roadside, and tangles of last year's tumbleweeds here and there.

Our goal wasn't exactly an open pit mine. It was more like an amphitheater, with a wide, gently sloping entrance ending in a broken, near-sheer cliff of pure, blinding-white material. At its foot lay piles of the same material, from huge boulders to powdery mounds.

The kids bounded from the car as soon as we stopped. Les and Rikki were too young to care about the chalk's artistic possibilities, but Lulu and Annie headed immediately for the detritus mounds and began pawing through them in search of perfect pieces for whatever artistic visions they had. Before long they'd each amassed a pile of white rocks big enough to fill the car. Meanwhile, Neil and I were poking around, looking for fossils. Surely, we thought, there should be some caught in the chalk; it was more properly named diatomaceous earth, comprising the calcium-rich shells of billions of tiny creatures left behind when an ancient lake dried up, way back in the Paleocene Era (65 to 55 million years ago).

After a picnic among the rocks, we loaded as much chalk as the car had space for (it is lightweight as rock goes) and headed home. The kids were worn out, and slept the whole way home, giving Neil and me freedom to talk quietly about the possibility of making something artistic from a chunk.

I know the kids did some carving, but can't remember who did what. I do recall that my brother carved a pipe bowl from one piece and tried it out. He said it made the tobacco taste awful and smell worse (what can you expect from something that old?).None of the worked pieces survived our many moves since then. In fact, I hadn't thought about the excursion to the chalk beds for many years when I ran across a short article in the Oregonian that brought the memories back. It told of the reopening of a diatomaceous earth mine near Harper.

Aha! A setting in search of a story.

The result, after months of mulling, some research, and a second visit to the Harper area, was Improbable Solution, a paranormal romance. Even before writing it, I was convinced that if I ever followed the Harper-Westfall Road, sooner or later I'd find my way to a small town in Malheur County, Oregon, where the Zip Code is 97947. But don't try writing to someone in Whiterock. The Post Office doesn't deliver there.

*~*

Way back in 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase "willing suspension of disbelief." We really like it, because it so perfectly describes why fiction—especially paranormal fiction—is so interesting. This month's featured title is about ordinary people in an ordinary town living ordinary lives. Except they are none of the above, because there is a sentience in the land on which they walk, the very ground on which their homes and businesses stand. All Improbable Solution requires on your part is that willing suspension of disbelief. After all, Whiterock, Oregon, could happen. Couldn't it?

Spend some time in Whiterock, Oregon, where Sally Carruthers nurses her dying father, and dreams of the day she can go back to her real life. Where Gus Loring seeks forgetfulness, but to find it, he'd have to face his past. But Whiterock is more than just a town. It's full of a bunch of folks who can't imagine living elsewhere, a few people who wish they were almost anywhere else, and a school full of youngsters who can't get out of town soon enough. There is more to Whiterock than its 639 residents, the elk statue by the park, and the Bite-A-Wee Cafe. More to it than a place where Gus and Sally find temporary passion together.

There is something else there, too. Something alive.

Improbable Solution cover

Pay a visit to Whiterock, Oregon, in Improbable Solution (ISBN 978-1-60174-190-5; $6.99). It's available from your favorite ebookseller, or ask your local library to add it to its ebookshelves.

Spring came to the northern hemisphere a few weeks ago, but you wouldn't guess it by the weather. We are so ready for sunshine here in Oregon. And we are wishing you sunshine and balmy breezes to enjoy while you read an ebook or three. From Uncial Press, of course.

Star & Jude