Our Big Playground—The Orange Grove

I can’t think of a better place to have grown up than our three-acre country place in Lemoncove. The neighborhood was a collection of a dozen houses like our rambling three-acre place, or on scattered lots. We went to each other’s houses to play and ride horses, we rode our bikes up and down the lane, and we lolled about thinking up games to play in our back yards. But the adventure of living in our neighborhood was not the places we lived on, it was what surrounded us.

Living at the edge of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains meant that the terrain had a gently rolling aspect. It was not a far hike to the actual slope of the closest foothill by us, the first one in a string. If you climbed to the top, you could follow the ridge line all the way to Barbies’ Sandwich and Gift Shop, a couple miles away by road. I’m not sure if our mom knew how far we actually roamed. I don’t think we thought to tell her. She just expected us back around a certain time, and we tried to keep to that so no one would worry. But the best playground was the land between us and the mountain. 

Walking out from our back pasture took us to an older orange grove. Orange groves were all around us, everywhere. But this one felt like it belonged to us. We knew it. We knew all the hidden surprises, like the old dump in it. When a kid got a new BB gun, that was the first place to go. Line up all the beer bottles and see if you could hit them. A few rows had a random grapefruit tree and couple lemon trees tucked away in them. When we needed a lemon, Mom sent us out to fetch one. 

This was the “thermal belt,” an optimum temperature zone for citrus that ran along the lower flank of the foothills, and the grove accommodated the ups and downs of the ground. A decomposed granite pit within the grove was occasionally used by the owner, (we didn’t think of it being OWNED by anyone!) And when they would haul some truckloads out, part of our playground would be rearranged, to our delight. My sister was always the brilliant namer-of-things. The area around the DG pit was “Sandune,” and the hillock beside it that had been sliced off for material was “Flat-Top Mountain.” 

The orange trees were a little elderly and had not been maintained like other groves in the area. Some were very large; they were not topped regularly. Since then, the grove has been refurbished and maintained, but at the time, it seemed more wild and wooly. The branches were not kept trimmed off the ground. In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, when I needed to come up with Valeria’s and Theo’s “adventure land” to roam in and let their imaginations guide their play, right away I thought of my dream to create a playhouse within the inner hollow of an orange tree.

The trees were not perfectly hollow. Most had a few pesky leafless branches that messed up your headspace for walking around inside. But they were close to the ideal, with hedge-like evergreen leaves concealing the inner space, all the way to the ground. Clumps of Johnson grass grew here and there, further hiding any potential clubhouse activity. Our grove was a perfect place to “get lost in,” because we never truly got really lost, just enjoyed the challenge of finding our way back out again.

Orange trees and groves will always make me reminisce about my childhood!

Bus Number Thirteen

A school bus wreck? Where did that come from!

I had a creative writing teacher once who insisted that we write stories that originated from our own personal lives, transformed into fiction. She insisted it made a story more real to the reader, with the details and emotion that couldn’t be totally fabricated. I had to admit it was true. Stories made from whole cloth might be exciting and interesting, but they don’t feel as real, as if they really were true. And that is exactly what we chase, a story that is true in all but reality.

In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I start the book out with a bus wreck. A charter bus actually suffers the wreck, but Valeria’s school bus is involved. I wrote up my first draft, doing a little revising, until the time came to step back and analyze things like, is the first chapter of the book exciting enough to make people want to read more? I had to admit it was not. So what I needed was another chapter to put in front. Something that might introduce the book, and in some way tie it up again at the end. An event in my own life came to mind. 

The Exeter Union High School Foggy Day Wreck of Bus Number Thirteen

I remember it well. I may not remember it accurately, but I remember it well. It was a foggy day in November or December 1974. Tulare County had thick thick fog. In fact, it was known as “Tule Fog,” and it made everything more than six feet away disappear into a thick gray blanket. It would linger for weeks, but everyone soldiered through. Even the school bus schedule. Kids in other parts of the country might have Snow Days, a day off from school because the busses couldn’t get through. You’d think they would realize that NO ONE COULD SEE THE ROAD AHEAD on foggy foggy days, and that it wasn’t safe to be out there driving around, especially a school bus full of kids, stopping periodically on narrow road shoulders to pick up kids. But no, they didn’t make allowances for fog.

So on that foggy morning, the busses were running as usual. That winter day it was so very very foggy, it seemed to me the bus driver had more trouble than usual making out the lone kids standing there, waiting for the bus on the shoulder of the country road, winding through orange groves and foothills. State Highway 198 was a main artery feeding the kids from country homes to the high school in the modest-sized town of Exeter. As the highway left the margin of the foothills to head out towards Exeter, it made a “swoop” just before the Yokohl Valley turn-off. 

Everything was normal, even the thick gray fog outside the bus windows. The bus was about half full, kids chattering, having fun, waiting to get to school, interested in the novelty of the bus driver barely seeing kids at their stops in time. We were preparing to make the “swoop.” One kid had a stop just before it. Whoosh! The driver didn’t see her quite in time and stopped a little further down the road. I wonder why the driver thought it would be less safe for the girl to walk a little ways down the shoulder toward the bus than to back the bus up to the girl? No matter. We backed up. The shoulder was wide enough, with some asphalt, some sandy loam. That alluvial sandy loam that was so perfect for healthy orange groves. We backed. But the driver did not take into account the curve. We had already entered the “swoosh” part, but she went straight, sending the tail of the school bus out into the roadway.

When I felt the impact, I thought we had backed into a telephone pole. Sure, it was tremendously higher in force, but the brain tries to put a new thing into an old slot. (Okay, we had never backed into telephone poles before, but it was easy to imagine!) It was a huge moment of noise and dust and broken glass and an impression of seat backs bent back a few inches from the force of kids’ backs slamming into them from the impact. I remember seeing a girl a few seats ahead of me holding her head in confusion, blood trickling down her hand. My things were scattered about. The mother of the girl waiting for the bus ran over and began helping to get kids out of the bus. Hurry hurry! Get out! Come along! Before I could gather my things, (¡Mis Cosas!) they hustled me off the bus along with the rest of the kids. I remember the wide-eyed girl telling how she saw the whole thing happen before her eyes. I remember the insane rumors flying about one of the boys who “lost half his liver.” I remember the teary face of our bus driver being comforted by the girl’s mother, a bus driver herself. I remember them giving me my wallet back later on. I’d never noticed it was missing from my purse. I’d never had whiplash before, and it was the most strange feeling to not be able to lift my head from the gymnastics mat for 3 days.

What had happened was this: A gravel truck with two trailers was driving the road at 55 mph, when all of a sudden a school bus hind end came into his view directly in front of him. He swerved and missed. Mostly. The last trailer clipped the back of the bus and changed things forever, not only for Exeter Union High School, but all of Tulare County. 

Let us welcome the advent of the Foggy Day Bus Schedule.

Monopoly Returns!

In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I decided to use a game board to reveal some of the clues that would guide Valeria with her task back in the time of the Black Death. It wasn’t a hard choice, no, really there was no decision to make! It would be Monopoly, classic Monopoly. 

I was introduced to Monopoly at a tender age, really not even quite old enough to play it, but I loved it, with all the fake money, little green houses and red hotels, the deed cards with lots of words on them, and… the tokens. “The Token,” was my original working title for “Valeria & The Enemy of Time.” As the book progressed, I realized that I wanted the title to reflect more what the book was about, rather than the mysterious token that appears. So I dropped that title, leaving it only as an artifact on my earlier drafts.

Our babysitter’s son was the older brother we never had. He took us on adventures. I’ll never forget when he took us, three young sisters and a little brother, on a wilderness hike up the flank of the foothills behind our house. I have a snapshot in my brain of us coming back a couple of hours later, trudging up the gravel road, past our place, alongside the pasture. The whole time I can see his mother standing at the end of the road by their house, hands on her hips, with a “spanking implement” of some kind in her hand. Our steps got slower… and slower. She diverted him while we went into the house. He hadn’t gotten permission, apparently.

We played Tom Sawyer, poling around in a flooded cow pasture on a shed door, being warned about water snakes, the “most poisonous kind there are.” I’ll bet he never anticipated what would happen when I saw a potato peeling floating around with some tossed garbage. (Think; kids screaming “water snake!” tipping the raft, pandemonium abounding.) We read his Tarzan comic books, picked off tomato worms and executed them, and helped fill the utility sink with frog eggs, which annoyed his mother. Of course we had a club. And a club house, which was an unused animal shed. We tried to dig a tunnel under the wall, but it was slow going. My sister could barely wriggle through it. It didn’t look like a secret escape tunnel should. But the primary activity of the club was Monopoly.

We played a few times at the kitchen table with other members of his family. That was when I picked my token, the same token I would use every time I ever played the game. The iron. When I was a kid, playing Monopoly was like how a youngster would visit Disneyland without a grown-up leading the tour. Instead of a choreographed plan to take the best advantage of the day, Kids would just walk around riding things and enjoying the experience. If they didn’t know the rules of the park, they would just make some up and go merrily along. That’s how I played the game, buying the properties with the pretty colors, randomly putting houses on and trying to figure how to charge the rent for them. We always did the non-official, oft-played rule of tossing the fines collected into “Free Parking,” to be won by players who landed there. Once, we tried putting everything there, property sales and everything, but the bank ran out of money.  Then the leaders of the club decided the Monopoly set should be stored in the clubhouse, seeing as how playing it was the club’s primary mission. 

One day, the club abandoned its primary mission. The goats got into the clubhouse and ate up all the money.

One of my favorite presents of all time came that Christmas, my own Monopoly game. I still have it, and even though it is worn and the money is soft from age and heavy use, everything is still there, even my old iron. 

Now Available! Valeria & The Enemy of Time

New Book Release! Valeria & The Enemy of Time

I am thrilled to announce that my new book, “Valeria & The Enemy of Time” is now released and available on amazon.com! 

Valeria was like most of us when we were “t’weens.” Ordinary. Or at least, that’s what she thought. Nothing special. But a tapestry with one possible future was being woven for her, and when the three strangers showed it to her, she had to make a decision. To believe the fantastic tale they told her, to prepare for a journey back through time and thwart the Enemy who was maliciously harming the future? To attempt her quest without knowing more than the smallest hints? Or to dismiss the whole experience as a game, as simply her imagination run amok? Or was the experience  all only a result of concussion from the terrible school bus accident. 

But it was not her imagination. And it was not a game. When events in Earth’s timeline began to change for the worse, Valeria and her best friend, Theo were thrust back in time to the medieval era of The Black Death in Italy, 1349 AD. With the scant clues given them by the three strangers, Valeria began her task of trying to save a little girl’s life, a little girl who was supposed to live so that Earth’s timeline would remain undamaged. 

In the course of their journey, Valeria began to discover her own strength and courage, especially when she found herself alone to go on with the quest. But hard as it was to survive a plague-ridden and primitive world, it was nothing compared to her final showdown with The Enemy of Time!

If you like the convenience and lower cost of the ebook, you can get the Kindle edition. If you are the type who likes to hold an old-fashion paperback in your hand, that is another option! The physical book is a nice, large, comfortable size to hold. It came in at 300 pages, which sounds like a lot! Well, it is a nice long-ish read that you can settle down to for a worthy binge. But what I like is that the size of the print is just a tad larger, to respect the the middle-grade readers. That “easy on the eyes” size can also be helpful for older eyes too, by the way! (Not to be confused with a “large print format.”) Even though I wrote the book with middle-graders in mind, I believe “Valeria & The Enemy of Time” will be enjoyed by all ages, anyone who likes a story about friendship and adventure, with a little bit of history, and a fantasy that could be real. (Who knows? Maybe!)

We have plans to make the eBook version available through other publishers also in the very near future, and when that happens, I’ll make that announcement. 

I’m also looking forward to some possible book release events. I’ll be sure to mention those on my Facebook page, CR Roberts Books.

Please be patient as we continue to fine-tune my website and make all the buttons do what we want them to!

Almost Live! Valeria & The Enemy of Time

Have you ever built your own house? Created your own business? Had your own baby? 

Written and published your own book? 

There are a lot of similarities! 

  • You think it will be done in no time. In fact, it drags on a lot longer than you would have imagined. 
  • When you have gotten a good start, you look around and say, Dang! I’m almost done! Only this and that to do, really. In fact, what you thought was your second and last revision was only your second revision. The revisions to go will first be numbered, and then they will be renamed things like “final” “last” and “the good one,” and then you will create a folder named “old versions,” where they all get dumped. Because, what if you write yourself into a corner and need to chuck it all back to last June’s revision?
  • You think you can do it all by yourself. Once you have decided on the self-publishing route, it all feels like it’s in your own hands. Type it up, throw a cover together, follow step-by-step instructions to make a Kindle book, hit publish and Ta Da! You are an author. But…
  • You have no idea. You will need a lot of people. Unless you are a technical genius, the one person you do not want to make mad is the one who is telling you what programs to load, building your website, going over how to use Scrivener (again) with great (apparent) patience, and getting your trim size and cover to all come together. You need beta readers. It was scary throwing it out to other people to read for the first time. But I was glad I took that step for my next (almost final now!) revision. My monthly Writers Forum Club meetings gave me ideas and contacts. Friends and family encouraged me (or at least humored me). And because I’m self-published, it will take a ton of people helping to share the news about my book and to post reviews, helping ultimately to make this a success.
  • You think your own house/business/baby/book is the best one there is. No, seriously. It is, right?

Writing a novel started as a challenge to myself. Actually, it began further back, as a co-challenge between Mel Newton and myself. “Write an eBook and Make Money Forever,” or at least that is how I remember the title of the book from the podcast “By the Book.” (Or is it “Buy” the Book?”) Two women, Jolenta and Kristen work through different self-help books for two weeks, living by them, and then reporting on the results. For the “Write an eBook…” episode, they worked up a book apiece and then self-published. One was an Amish romance, the other a comparison of the various Greek Gods to the Desperate Housewives. Mel and I both had the same thought. We could totally do this!

We both came up with topics we already knew how to do, thought up pen names, downloaded Scrivener (an excellent program for writers) and gave ourselves thirty days to finish our books. We both squeaked in under the deadline with our manuscripts. (If you are curious about the results, Google Orvetta Black, Dinah Roberts, and Bar Napkin Guides.) At that point I felt thoroughly qualified to begin my next project, my true goal—writing a middle-grade novel!

I have tried to throw together 50,000 word novels in the past, every November, in fact. When the season turns to fall, Halloween is almost over and you can start tearing down the candy corn lights and plan your Christmas decorations, NaNoWriMo shows up on November 1st. National Novel Writers Month. You join up and get 30 days to pound out your 50k novel. It doesn’t have to be worthy, it just has to get written. Words on pages. I usually get about a week and a half in before I lose ground, fall behind and know I’ll never get it done by the 30th. Then I stash what I started in a pathetic file named “NaNoWriMo Starts” and wait until next November. 

Back to my goal. My first goal was to see if I could just start and finish a novel. No standards. Just come up with some characters, give them a job, take them through it, throw a few conflicts in, and wind it up with a conclusion. Don’t waste a good idea on it, because this would just be my practice novel. Once I proved to myself I could do that, then I would do the “real one.” 

But now I have my new saying. Lifted from my technical person, who is also writing a (collaborative) novel.

“I suck at crappy writing.”

Yes, if I were good at crappy writing, I’d have been done a long time ago and happily pounding out my fourth (crappy) novel. But once I own a piece of writing, it becomes personal. I see how it could be better. When someone suggests a way to give more interest, I don’t say, “Nope! It’s just a crappy novel to prove something to myself.” I gotta do the work. I become fond of my characters. Finally, I begin to realize it’s not just a throw-away crappy novel, but pretty nice, and someone else might really enjoy reading it. So I decided put it out there and hope people like it.

That is where I am with “Valeria & the Enemy of Time.” It’s done now, and will be live on Amazon in a day or two, both as eBook and print version. Here is my website so you can get a look at the book. www.CarolynRRoberts.com. Not all the buttons may be active yet, but they will be soon. I am putting an excerpt up, so be sure to check that out.

Happy Reading!