October Journeys

Elk in Boxley Valley, Arkansas © Steve Creek, Photographer www.stevecreek.com
Elk in Boxley Valley, Arkansas © Steve Creek, Photographer http://www.stevecreek.com

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, every fog in October means a snow in December. The hills and hollers I call home have been cloaked in fog at least five mornings to date, with friends in remote homesteads and farms reporting even more. We’ve been lucky (so far) that the sun breaks through by mid-morning and the days quickly warm, making it perfect for great adventures.

One adventure sure to interest the whole family is the 27th annual Pea Ridge Mule Jump on Saturday, October 10th. From what I’ve learned, mules are not particularly impressed with the idea of jumping, and their handlers have quite a task to get them moving. If you, like me, wonder why anyone would expect a mule to jump at all, here’s one explanation I found in a post authored by Times editor Annette Beard:

“Mule jumping comes from a tradition in coon hunting of having mules jump over fences rather than finding gates. Hunters throw a blanket over the fence so the mule will jump it. Mules can jump flat footed.”

Elkhorn Tavern National Military Park
Elkhorn Tavern National Military Park

Pea Ridge, by the way, was home to what’s considered by many to be one of the most pivotal battles in the Civil War. Also known as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Pea Ridge is one of the most intact battlefields in the nation. It’s a National Park site and worth a visit. History buffs might be interested in comparing the Union Army and Confederate Army reports, found here.

River View at Calf Creek
River View at Calf Creek

If you miss the mule jump or want to see a different sort of wildlife, head over to the Buffalo River area. A friend who lives out that way reports that visitors are already crowding into Boxley Valley ahead of the fall colors to see the rutting elk. (Rutting season runs mid-September into November.) If you’re planning a trip out that way, you’ll find maps and helpful information at Arkansas.com and the Buffalo River Regional Chamber site. Enjoy the scenic drive while you’re out that way, too. Explore the Buffalo River (the first national river), the Lost Valley State Park and its trails, or just enjoy a leisurely scenic drive through the valley.

And–in keeping with the theme of legends and folklore this month–mark your calendars for Voices from Eureka’s Silent City (a fundraiser for the Eureka Spring Historical Museum):

Eureka Springs Voices from the silent city


So…what’s on your schedule this month? Don’t forget: leave a comment on any or all posts this month to be entered in the drawing mentioned here.

Celebrate Life, Land, and Beauty

April 3rd has been named Save the Ozarks Day by the city of Eureka Springs in honor of all those who worked together to preserve the beauty of our region and stop the wanton destruction of our way of life. From Doug Stowe, Vice President, Save the Ozarks:

We are coming up on the second anniversary of AEP/SWEPCO’s application to destroy a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas to build an unnecessary 345 kV power line. Its towers, placed 6 to the mile, would have dwarfed our tallest oak trees, and the clear cut right of way would have been kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations by the use of toxic herbicides….

[R]ather than gathering together as we have done in the past, we urge everyone in our community to breathe in the beauty of that which would have been destroyed. Please stand with friends or alone if you choose, in a spot of overlook or of intimate beauty and hold fast in joy and celebration the image of what you see. You have taken part in saving for generations yet to come, the beauty, sanctity and serenity of this special place..” [Read the entire post here.]

For those of you who may not have the opportunity to celebrate the moment here in the Ozarks,  here are images generously shared by Ozark photographers. Enjoy!

At this time of year, every day brings a new surprise in the woods. You have to look closely to see some of the blooms tucked among the leaves and rocks of the hillsides. Take, for example, these tiny beauties from the Viola family, captured by Madison County photographer Billy Baker Whorton:

Viola blooms Madison County Billy Baker Whorton
© Billy Baker Whorton

Turn up your speakers for this video and listen to the sound of water rushing through Bear Creek Hollow in Newton County. This was shot in the Ozark National Forest by Dan Nash, who’s with Hiking The Ozarks:


If you prefer a mix of old and new, check out Jim Warnock’s article in the magazine Do SouthAnd find more great photos and stories by Jim (with Hiker, the Wonder Dog) on his website http://ozarkmountainhiker.com/. Here’s one of my favorite shots from Jim’s website:

Cascade at Bliss Spring  ©  Jim Warnock
Cascade at Bliss Spring © Jim Warnock

Trust me when I say that water is COLD–as I learned to my chagrin when I slipped not long go when crossing a creek and water rushed over the top of my boots. (Tip: always pack extra socks!)

Here in the Ozarks, wintry conditions are still a definite possibility all through March and April or beyond. Last year, it snowed the first week of May. Some years back, we went camping one Easter weekend and the temp hit a low of 19 degrees. (The dog’s water froze in the tent!)

More often, though, April will bring sunshine and warm temperatures. And all too often those warm temps will usher in some wild weather. When I saw this fabulous photograph by Larry Waterman I was reminded of this line from Deadly Ties: “Weather in the Ozarks is notoriously unpredictable.” This shot says it all:

Heber Springs © Larry Waterman. All rights reserved.
Heber Springs © Larry Waterman. All rights reserved.

As we come to the end of our virtual tour, let me leave you with a view of the Buffalo River Valley and a line from Dangerous Deeds, the forthcoming book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series: “If I’ve learned anything since settling here, it’s that land and family are the heart of the Ozarks. The legends, the history—it all comes back to the hills and the people, doesn’t it?”          

Buffalo River Valley © Dan Nash at Hiking the Ozarks
Buffalo River Valley © Dan Nash at Hiking the Ozarks

The Magic of the Ozarks

Hwy 7 National Scenic Byway near Jasper AR Photo by Tim Ernst (All rights Reserved)
Hwy 7 National Scenic Byway near Jasper AR just before sunrise  (Photo by Tim Ernst. All rights Reserved.)

Take one look at this photo by the famous photographer Tim Ernst and you’ll know why I say legends live on in the Ozarks Mountains.  It’s a place of magic and mystery, where ties run deep and stories and superstitions can linger for generations.

One such story is The Lady of the Valley, recounted in the book Ozark Tales and Superstitions by the late Phillip W. Steele. (You can get a copy online at IndieBound or  Amazon or at the Eureka Springs Historical Museum.) As the story is told:

A few years before he was married Jess Mcelhaney was returning home from an evening spent in the old town of Aurora. After being startled by an opossum scurrying across the road, Jess saw a bright light appear a few yards away; he stopped and gazed at it with an almost hypnotic stare. Within the bright halo of light he saw the figure of a young woman. She was dressed in a white dress and wore dark stockings. Her hair hung to her waist, and she was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen–or ever would see. The lady was not carrying a lantern, yet she appeared to be completely encircled by light. Jess also recalls how he thought it most odd that his figure cast a shadow beneath the full moon but hers did not.

….During the past fifty years many other citizens of the area say they have had a glimpse of the beautiful lady in the valley. Most believe she rises at rare intervals from the old Aurora graveyard at the head of the valley and walks from there through the meadow. It is said that she only rises on warm nights when the moon is in its fullest stage.

This story and other Ozark tales are included in my series, which is set in the high Ozarks. In Book 2 of the series (due out later this year), you’ll learn about the ghosts of Eureka Spring’s Crescent Hotel (considered by many to be one of the most haunted hotels in the country), the Monster of Peter Bottom Cave, the Devil’s Teakettle, and more.

A Gem of a Literary Festival

In Deadly Ties (first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series), part of the plot revolves around treasure legends.  While that makes for great fiction, let me tell you about a real treasure of the Ozarks—the Books in Bloom Literary Festival.   I was honored to be one of the featured authors at this year’s event, and it was a terrific experience!

Great to see readers of all ages!
Great to see readers of all ages!

Held in the gardens of the legendary Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Books in Bloom is the brainchild of the Carroll and Madison Public Library Foundation to promote the value of books and reading.  And boy, do they promote! In the six weeks leading up to the festival, there were multiple feature articles and news stories about the festival and the participating authors.

A special “thank you” must go to Jean Elderwind, co-chair of this year’s marvelous event. She was in steady contact in the months leading up to the festival, supplied all sorts of information, and was ready to answer any question. Jean coordinated media requests and introduced me to two great writers, who each published a feature article about me and my work.

Jennifer Jackson of the Lovely County Citizen published an article on April 10th titled “Elementary, My Dear Dachshund – Trip to Eureka Springs sets author on the write track.”   C.D. White of the Eureka Springs Independent ran an article on May 14th titled “Woof woof wonderful: Author Susan Holmes has marked her niche.”   Thanks to their superb publicity, readers and fans came out in droves to get their own signed copies of Deadly Ties.

The weather was perfect, the gardens beautiful, and the Foundation Board and volunteers treated the authors like royalty. From the lovely reception the evening before the Festival, to the lavish brunch the morning of the event, to lunch delivered right to us, we were exceptionally well cared for. Volunteers erected shade canopies and set up chairs and tables (complete with white tablecloths and beautiful flowers). We unloaded just steps from my booth, with more volunteers available to help with anything needed.

Organizers gave authors the option to bring and sell their own books or to have the bookseller bring books for them. I chose to bring plenty of my own (just in case!).  And I’m very glad I did, because the bookseller would probably have sold out long before I ran out of customers clamoring for a signed copy of their own!

And speaking of customers…one sweet lady informed me the library had a waiting list of patrons wanting to read my book. That made my heart sing! And then she completely made my day when she told me she wanted her very own copy so she wouldn’t have to wait to read the book. (How cool is that?)

I signed books all afternoon for readers across the age spectrum. One of my favorite conversations was with a young reader who told me she loved playing with her dogs and reading mysteries with her grandmother. My kind of fan!

Visiting with St. Paul librarian
Visiting with St. Paul librarian

I enjoyed the chance to meet librarians from the Carroll and Madison library system, and was thrilled to know the St. Paul (AR) Public Library’s book club will feature Deadly Ties this summer, and I’m invited as a speaker!

I was delighted to visit with fans and sign books throughout the afternoon. I’d thought the crowd would thin out by the time I was at the podium in the Reader’s Tent since I was the final speaker of the day. Instead, I was amazed to find every seat taken and a small crowd standing at the back!  The audience was a writer’s dream—terrific listeners and clearly eager to hear about the book and the series. I gave them a “sneak preview” of the next book in the series to thank them for staying until the end. I finished to a huge round of applause—a perfect ending to a perfect day!

So great to see old friends and meet new fans!
So great to see old friends and meet new fans!
Thanks to all the readers who turned out!
Thanks to all the readers who turned out!

You can follow the Books in Bloom Literary Festival on Facebook  and online.  And mark your calendars for the 2015 festival; it’s sure to be another winner!

Books in Bloom 2014

Books in Bloom 2014

This weekend, writers and readers from all over will gather at the legendary Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for the Books in Bloom Literary Festival. Every year, this event draws mega-bestselling authors.  Catherine Coulter, James Grippando, Craig Johnson, Nevada Barr, and Dana Stabenow are just some of the famous authors who have been part of this terrific event.  This year we’ll have Elizabeth Berg, Terry Brooks, Kathy Reichs, and a dozen other authors–including me!

Books in Bloom PostcardThe festival is a free event, with free parking. There’s even a shuttle to take you from your car to the hotel (and if you’ve ever climbed the hilly streets of Eureka Springs, you’ll really appreciate that shuttle!) You can see the entire schedule here. In addition to the mega-stars presenting in the Conservatory, authors will read from their works all afternoon in the Reader’s Tent. When not presenting, authors will be available in the gardens to greet fans, answer questions, and autograph copies of their work.

But that’s not all! Writers, in addition to spending the afternoon with kindred spirits, there are two very special treats for you. First, the famous Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow will join the festivities. Come meet the Colony’s director, Linda Caldwell, and learn all about this fabulous writer’s retreat. Residencies and fellowships are available! (Can’t make the actual event? Visit their website to learn more about opportunities for writers.)

writers colony at dairy hollowVillage Writing SchoolAlso at the festival this year is Eureka Springs’ Village Writing School. They’ll run a FREE Story Clinic. Writers, grab your notes and head to the clinic, where you’ll hear advice specific to your story. Stop by their tent or visit their website to sign up for newsletters and other helpful information.


Books in Bloom Literary Festival

Books in Bloom 2014

The Books in Bloom Literary Festival is famous for hosting literary stars and emerging authors on the grounds of the Crescent Hotel in historic Eureka Springs, Arkansas in mid-May. This year, I’m honored to be one of those authors!

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Crescent Hotel and many others, plus the dedicated volunteers and staff of the Carroll and Madison [Counties] Library Foundation, this is a FREE event celebrating writers and readers. (There’s even a shuttle service and easy parking!).  Visit with authors, listen to them discuss their work, and take home your own signed copies. The 2013 festival included Catherine Coulter, James Grippando, Craig Johnson, and Anna Loan-Wilsey, just to name a few. (You can see all the 2013 authors here.)  Coming this year:

2014 Books in Bloom Roster (so far): Elizabeth Berg, Terry Brooks, Mark Christ, Steven Foster, Susan Holmes, John Hornor Jacobs, Anne Ream, Kathy Reichs, Kerry Reichs, Kat Robinson, Lothar Schafer, and Michael Shelden.

You can “like” their Facebook page Books in Bloom Literary Festival to get the latest news news about the festival, and bookmark their website www.booksinbloom.org for more information. Author details should be posted to the website by mid-March.

It’s a beautiful time to visit the Ozarks; if you’re in the neighborhood, I hope you’ll come by!

Legends of the Ozarks

Crescent Hotel logo

If you’ve read Deadly Ties you know the historic Victorian village of Eureka Springs is featured in the book. One of the village’s most prominent hotels is the Crescent Hotel & Spa. Here’s what the Historic Hotels website has to say about this jewel:

Perched above the Victorian village of Eureka Springs, Arkansas—recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations—is the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, a palatial structure and landmark hotel that echoes the recuperative splendor of the surrounding Ozark Mountain region. The cultural hotel in the Ozarks features 15 on-site acres of gardens and nature trails—ample evidence that Arkansas’ nickname, The Natural State, is no misnomer. Located in the historic district with more than 100 restored Victorian shops, restaurants and galleries, the Victorian hotel seamlessly retains its 19th-century character, from the Crystal Dining Room to the elegantly furnished guest rooms, without sacrificing a single full-service amenity.

You might be surprised to know that for many guests, the splendor of the hotel and the beauty of the grounds aren’t the main attractions. That honor goes to the ghosts.

Yes, you read that right. Ghosts. For many, the hotel is known as America’s Most Haunted Hotel, and visitors are apparently routinely treated to . . . well, let’s just say “unusual sightings.” You can read about some of the ghostly legends and even book a stay during a scheduled ghost hunt here.

Legends of the Ozarks can be found throughout the Waterside Kennel series. Deadly Ties, for example, features some of the treasure tales of the region and ghostly tales will make their appearance in the next book in the series.  Stay tuned for more news about the series, coming soon!