Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Four

… not to mention the cat. This is the fourth day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra found a new home in Alabama. Traveling in her Toyota Yaris with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an adventure I’ll never forget.

Seguin, Tx to South Baton Rouge, LA
02 August 2016
446 miles

Quick breakfast in the Super 8 lobby and then on the road again. Side note, laundry, even the thin stuff, will not dry overnight in humid weather.

imageLoki likes her window sills as you can see to the left. She returned to her travel kennel in the backseat with no fuss. She is now resigned to the nomadic life.

We made it to the Louisiana border about 11 am. No long security corridor this time! It’s easy to leave Texas.

Good thing we stopped in Katy just before Houston for Starbucks. We found none in Louisiana.

imageOn a gas stop, we discovered this great farm stand and bought Louisiana black grapes and small peaches.

We crossed Louisiana with only minor slowdowns till we reached the environs of Baton Rouge. At 4pm, we hit horrid traffic on the bridge spanning the Mississippi River at the start of the Highway 12 loop. Took a long time to get to the bridge and then a geological age to cross it. Long enough to recount every bridge disaster movie we’d seen and time to meditate on our probable deaths. After we crawled onto the interstate, we realized the possibility of the congestion lasting the next 84 miles was very real. We crossed three lanes of traffic to make the last exit. By now it was nearly 6pm, so we checked into the first South Baton Rouge motel we found.

Little did we know that torrential rains would hit Baton Rouge with historic level flooding. A strange feeling to read this headline days after being there!

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said Baton Rouge received twice the amount of rain in one 24-hour period than it normally receives in the entire month of August. The average for August is 5.82 inches, he said.
Some rainfall totals have exceeded 20 inches. Livingston has received 21.29 inches from late Thursday until early Saturday, he said. (CNN, 12 August 2016)

Reports of looting prompted officials in Baton Rouge Parish, La., to establish a curfew amid flooding that has killed 11 people. (UPI, 16 August 2016)

For those families affected by grievous loss, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

After settling Loki in the motel room and walking 45 minutes in muggy heat, we had a nice lemon pepper trout at Cracker Barrel. We tried to take a shortcut on the return, but had to backtrack. Now 8pm, it was even more muggy and hotter. It didn’t help that Debra recounted a horror film where a sentient road killed off a family.

I spent $2 drying the clothes from yesterday that were still wet. Laundry room was blessedly air conditioned.

Early to bed so we can beat the morning traffic. Tomorrow: Mississippi and Alabama or bust!

Trip report respectfully submitted by,
Michelle K

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Three

… not to mention the cat. This is the third day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra bought a house in southern Alabama, leaving her California home of forty years. Traveling in her small Toyota with her and her cat Loki across the United States was an adventure and a time for me to see parts of the US I’d never seen up close.

Van Horn, Tx to Siguen, Tx
August 01, 2016
471 miles

Driving home from the steakhouse last night about 10pm, the Yaris shared the road with a line of horses and their riders. Yep, we’re still in Texas.

Days Inn. People keep calling us ma’am. For Breakfast, I ate part of a waffle in the shape of Texas–the southern part, of course. Loki liked our motel room because it had a window sill to lounge on. But it was time stuff her in her kennel and hit the road again.

imageToday the landscape was flat and barren, slowed in parts with construction. We mostly sped the highways at the posted 80 mph. Where the road cut through hills and buttes, we saw the strata of history in Texan sandstone. This picture shows the layered cut.

For those who like to study the more macabre, the road kill early on were skunks which lafter gave way to raccoons.

Birdsong now sounds much different than what I hear in California.

Our last fill up was $1.85/gallon. That was here in Texas.

Tragically we were without any Starbucks for the first three hundred miles or more. Just outside San Antonio, we saw the first green mermaid logo. The chilled drinks (cold brew coffee) came in handy for the heavy traffic though the city. We did take the Anderson Loop which helped some. Now we’re seeing much more vegetation.

imageWe checked in at the first motel we found after San Antonio. A Super 8.  We enjoyed some wonderful southern food at the Dixie Grill shown at the left. At 10pm, commuter traffic was still heavy, even denser than it was at 6pm.

More Texas tomorrow!

Trip report respectfully submitted by,
Michelle K

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Americanization Teachers: Lillian in the Doorway and 1920s Lore Part Two

lillian with shoes copyWhat drove me to write the 1924 romance novel Lillian in the Doorway?

I won’t talk of the progression of interests that brought me to write about women living in boardinghouses far from home, hoping to find love. Each woman had left home for a reason: gangsters, grief, family demands, or family expectations. Why I wanted to explore living in a Basque boardinghouse where the past collides with the present is also a story for another time.

What brought these single women to the orange ranches? Besides escape and the dreams of a better future. A job of course. In 2013 I read an OC Weekly article where I shouted EUREKA! Perfect. My boardinghouse women would be Americaization teachers.

The Lost Mexicans of the Bastanchury Ranch was the article title. These first few lines drew that shout from me.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Kelly had worked as an Americanization teacher in the citrus camps of Orange County, tasked with schooling Mexican immigrants in the art of good citizenship. During the day, she taught women how to sew and cook American meals like casseroles and pies; at night, the Michigan native recited basic English phrases before audiences of men so that they could use them at work

These words supported various scenes when my Lillian in the Doorway characters talked about their work. In this first book, I show Lillian leaving the shed where she teaches. Except for a brief encounter with Mexican ranch kids, we don’t actually see Lillian teach. That will offer fresh opportunities for the other three books in the series. Since Lillian was an opinionated woman, I had more fun with her scathing remarks about the students, teachers, and the program goals. And in showing her friendship with Maria.

The large ranches in the north Orange County area, beginning in the late 1800s, needed workers. Ranch owners brought hundreds from Mexico. After a time, the Americanization teachers taught them American culture, clearly not for assimilation, but undoubtedly to make the white community more comfortable.  The Mexican children attended a different school than their white and Basque counterparts.

Again I did much research and much consideration on how much of the Americanization philosophy to include in the story. I knew the focus had to remain on the romance between Lillian and Jens. Still that romance was nurtured and deve loped through her job.

Although the Americanization classes continued through the early 30s, they ended for an appalling reason. My series stops before the historical event, so it’s not addressed in Lillian in the Doorway and probably won’t be in the other three books.

From the same article …

Sometime that spring, new management and a consortium of white business, political and civic leaders went to the Ranch’s schoolhouse and told the Mexicans they had to leave. “The Americanization centers in which these people had been taught how to buy homes and make themselves a part of the American community,” Mackey wrote 18 years later, “were now used for calling together assemblages in which county welfare workers explained to bewildered audiences that their small jobs would now be taken over by the white men, that they were no longer needed nor wanted in these United States.”

Many were American citizens, but repatriated only because they had a Spanish last name. They were loaded on trains and dumped in Mexican provinces where they knew no one. Their children–born in the United States–did not even speak Spanish.

The stories of these ranch workers were recorded in the 1960s for an oral history project and archived at California State University at Fullerton.  Several of the interviewees were Americanization teachers.

Lillian in the Doorway by Michelle Dutton is available on Amazon.

Happy reading!

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day Two

LAS CRUCES rest stop. Liked the flat landscape.

LAS CRUCES rest stop. Liked the flat landscape.

… not to mention the cat. This is the second day on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. Dear friend and fellow writer Debra bought a house in southern Alabama, leaving her California home of forty years. Traveling in her car with her and her cat Loki across the United States was a privilege and an adventure.

Tucson, Arizona to Van Horn, Texas
July 31, 2016
442 miles

Good sleep in the Tucson motel except for Loki waking me at 2am and keeping me awake till 4am when I finally understood that her water dish was dry. I filled it. She tried to talk me into more kibble, but I said no. She accepted that and allowed me to return to sleep.

We decided to make Liquid Starbucks our breakfast as our lodging provided nothing. We drank cold brew in Benson 35 miles away. Again with lovely, friendly Arizona spirit.

I should mention that this trip was almost entirely made on the 10 freeway. We did use Garmin which perched on the dashboard, Debra’s iPhone for detours like motels and Starbucks, and Auto Club TripTics. Debra marked down the mileage at the end of the day. We kept running totals during the day so that we’d make out target mileage goals.

LAS CRUCES rest stop again. Great desert plants.

LAS CRUCES rest stop again. Great desert plants.

Landscape appeared much like the previous day, but the saguaro cactus begin to give way to ocotillo and palo verde.

We had fun at a fresh jerky stand where the samples filled out our foraged lunch of fruit and trail mix. Yes, I’m a fish eating vegetarian, but was entirely satisfied with my salmon and tuna jerky bits. I hesitated over the Python and gator, but I didn’t mind passing them by in the end.

Loki was much better behaved today, only fussing once when she wanted more than one barbecue potato chip and again when we drove off with her car door partially ajar. Her tantrums sometimes made us laugh. When her fussing turned lawn mower loud, we knew it was time to pay attention.

Last photo at the LAS CRUCES rest stop

Last photo at the LAS CRUCES rest stop

We crossed the New Mexico border and encountered a splatter of rain that soon ended. I believe we were in New Mexico for only about three hours, including fifteen minutes spent at this lovely Las Cruces rest spot voted best in 1992. You probably noticed all my photos in this post were taken there. See the mammoth metal sculpture of a roadrunner!

Crossing into Texas took us through a several miles long security corridor between the two states. El Paso is a large city that took awhile to pass; we travelled on the loop around the city. Not much in the way of towns or landscape after that till we landed in Van Horn. Texas accents are thick here. We are now on Central Time, lost two hours in one day, and both time zones crossed in Texas.

More Texas tomorrow!

Trip report respectfully submitted by,
Michelle K

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Gangsters and Prohibition: Lillian in the Doorway and 1920s Lore Part One

lillian with shoes copyBefore and during the writing of the 1924 romance novel Lillian in the Doorway, I did much research and much consideration on how much to include in the story. I knew the focus had to remain on the romance between Lillian and Jens. Still that romance was nurtured and grew within the plot and setting of the book.

The 1920s was a rich period of time, touched by the aftermath of WWI (or the Great War as it was known then), Prohibition, and the Suffragette movement. The evolution of transportation in the automobile, railroad, and electric streetcars revolutionized travel, cities and trade. The advent of telephones and radios delivered another revolution in communication, entertainment, and social mores. Yet within this maelstrom of change, men and women still worked, loved, and sought a balm of peace.

I wanted to share some of this research because it’s really fascinating. I loved looking into WWI shellshock victims. It gave me a new perspective on those who suffer with PTSD now. And it affected at least one of my characters in Lillian. I was surprised to learn about the red line, electric streetcars, that ran not that many blocks from my house. A wonderful way for my four Americanization teachers to travel between their boardinghouse to the orange ranches.

I watched a score of movies filmed in the 20s, immersing myself in language and gestures.

But to the subject at hand … Prohibition gave rise to bootleggers and crime syndicates. Since Lillian fled Chicago after her private detective boss was shot by a politician with ties to the mob, I salted in some details about the syndicate to add some verisimilitude to the narrative. I used Google, Wikipedia, read fiction set in that time period like Mary Castillo’s Lost in the Light, and a wonderful book “Prohibition Madness: Life AND Death in and Around Long Beach, California, 1920-1933” by Claudine Burnett. Hours of reading went into this teeny bit in Lillian in the Doorway:

I’ve heard rumors of Theodore Caldwell and the Chicago Outfit. He’s had breakfast with Hymie Weiss, got his hooch from Torrio before Johnny retired, and Frankie Yale sends him cigars for his birthdays and Christmas.

My hero originally came from Pittsburgh via Heidelberg and Berlin. So I did a spot of research on crime syndicates in Pittsburgh too. I’d done extensive research for the murder of a bootlegger in The Admiral of Signal Hill set in 1922 the previous year, I skimmed those pages to add any local touches I needed for Lillian.

kenbrunsprohibitionI shouldn’t finish my research summary of Gangsters and Prohibition without mentioning Ken Burn’s documentary Prohibition. I discovered there the origins of the bootlegger term, statistics about drinking during that period and earlier, and the mayhem on city streets caused by both Prohibition and gangsters. Check it out!

Last weekend in an Andalusia, Alabama coffeeshop, a man told me that the town created whisky for the Chicago syndicate during the 1920’s. Interesting how we find gems of information, eh? And that lead me to reading 1915 court documents in the Southern Reporter. Can’t stop the signal!

Note: Lillian in the Doorway by Michelle Dutton will be offered for $1 off till August 14, 2016.

Happy reading!

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Two Women in a Car: California to Alabama Day One

… not to mention the cat. This is the start of a seven part series on a road trip I took 30 July to 05 August 2016. A dear friend and fellow writer Debra bought a house in southern Alabama, leaving her California home of forty years. Traveling in her car with her and her cat Loki across the United States was a privilege, an adventure and tasted oh so bittersweet.

30 July 2016 / North Orange County, California to Tucson, Arizona / 473 miles

The Yaris with a Tucson storm at sunset

The Yaris with a Tucson storm at sunset

I woke at 4:00 AM with a groan. Way too early. It took much work to prepare my house for time away and load Debra’s Toyota Yaris. Loki the cat is already not happy with the ride. With howls in the backseat, we head to fill the car with gas and Starbucks for us.

Mist hangs in the warm California morning.

Our Saturday ride is easier without the weekday commuter traffic.  We cross the Arizona border after three hours.  Our first stop is at Flying J, a place Debra’s sister recommended.  Loki, relieved to be free of road noise, revels in a patch of grass.

We couldn’t find the cat leash and smaller carrier, so we stop at Casa Grande’s Petsmart to get a new leash and cardboard carrier. (Later we discovered they’d been left at my house.) Arizonans are nicer than Californians.  Better drivers too.

We see spectacular desert landscapes, sometimes granite tan and sometimes dark gray shale.  Watch endless freight trains on tracks that disappear into the horizon.

My family is moving this month to Arizona, and I’m thrilled to see a sign for Prescott. We arrive in Tucson about 5:00 PM.  We bunk at an inexpensive motel with Saguaro cactus on the lot.  After fish and chips at a local eatery, we see a great sunset, followed quickly by a rainstorm.  Car cleaned!

So knackered.  Time to sleep.

Trip report respectfully submitted by, Michelle K

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August 2016 First Friday Breakfast with Author Melissa Crismon

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]On the first Friday of August 2016 (okay, too excited to wait), we are having breakfast with author Melissa Crismon.

Melissa fell in love with the idea of writing a book when she read the Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer. Soon after she took a job as a theatre reviewer and was compelled to write a book that has spiraled into a career. With a degree in music, her stories are often musically inspired. Melissa lives with her winsome sailor, little mermaid and rescued pets in sunny California.

She is the author of Superfreak. a MerSea novella.

For this hot late July breakfast, I’m having papaya and figs with feta.  Iced lavender green tea. Melissa, what are you having?

A scrambled egg from a local, vegetarian fed, cage-free chicken, vegan Field Roast sausage and Roastaroma herbal tea by Celestial Seasonings.

Hey, I’d eat that! So tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.

A vision comes to mind and I rush to type or write in a composition book. Then I type some plot points. I go to my notebook to write ideas and thanks to Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon I make a chart for the hero and heroine with their personal GMCs. Back to my computer, I start a timeline and outline to refer to religiously.

Somewhere in there I write a synopsis. I’ll admit I find I write a better synopsis after the first draft is written. I write synopses at different stages of the game, but after I recently wrote one after my first draft I was able to see where the plot needed filling in. I do like to send out my synopsis to beta readers sometimes.

I also do a lot of research. I research before I write and I have a very bad habit of researching when I write. I’m curious. I highlight what needs researching to stop myself from researching while writing. After three drafts or more I send my manuscript to beta readers. I make changes with readers’ comments. Revisions are the worst. I think plotting and craft books have helped me to keep from nightmarish revisions. And I made changes to Superfreak even after the book had been edited. One of my beta readers said I had made a lot of changes. I think that is part of the process of art.

Tell us about the MerSea series.  Why this series, why now?  

Long story short I was working on a trilogy and it was episodic. From the advice of an editor I replotted the first book. I worked on the book for three or so years. That should have been an indicator I didn’t know what I was doing. But it was pure bliss to write to every whim.

I needed to prove to myself I could write a story. My family was watching Spiderman. As I saw Peter Parker transform from the spider bite I thought what if a girl on an anti-whaling ship is stung by a stingray and transforms into a mermaid. I’m a fan of the canceled reality show Whale Wars. I had no idea this book would be such a huge representation of my vegetarian, compassion toward animals lifestyle. This series is for animal lovers. And, hopefully I transform people into animal lovers.

Amen. This is why I love the novella. Its message and getting to be a mermaid! More tea, Melissa?

What did you find fun/intriguing about writing Superfreak, and what was difficult?

I love the fact I get to travel to Hobart, Australia to Antarctica and back to Dana Point, California in the story. Living on a ship is romantic to me, being surrounded by like-minded conservationists. Superfreak was far less painful than my last book that I rewrote and will publish later.

Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.

I have written the next book in the MerSea Series. The manuscript is still in the beginning stages of the process of being a finished product. The book will be a shorter novella. Superfreak is about a 38K novella. I have a working title for the second book in the series, but I don’t want to reveal the title yet.

Thank you for visiting with us, Melissa.

Dear reader, I hope you check out her book. Let me pour us another virtual cup of Roastaroma before you rush off to Amazon for your copy of Superfreak. I did!

Learn more about Melissa Crismon at:



Amazon Author page

You can order her books at your local bookstore or on Amazon by clicking: Superfreak

Happy reading!

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