Last Friday, the tenth book in my Mogi Franklin Mystery Series, War Train, became available on Amazon.
The story is centered around the Castaneda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, a famous Fred Harvey House built in 1898 by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. A hundred yards from the tracks, the huge Spanish hacienda-styled hotel was built specifically for train passengers, but it also served the surrounding communities. Teddy Roosevelt held the first Rough Riders Reunion there in 1899.
It was a large, famous, and fabulous hotel in its first two decades but fell on hard times during the Depression. It came roaring back with Pearl Harbor and the years of World War II. A few million soldiers were fed in the lunch room on the way to training camps, military assignments, or on their way to Europe or the Pacific. On some occasions, the Harvey Girls took sandwich fixings out to tables on the sidewalk, made sandwiches, and handed them to GIs through the train windows as the train paused as it pulled through.
After the war, the railroad-based hotel business dissolved under an America that had fallen in love with cars and busses. The Castaneda limped along mostly as a vacant building until 2014, when it was purchased by Allan Affeldt, the restorer of the Las Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. Affeldt began restoring the hotel in 2016 and it reopened in 2019. I was able to see the hotel under construction in 2017 (Affeldt hosted an open house), took an official tour a year after that, then visited in August, on the way back from Texas. It looks like it’s doing fine. Check out the accommodations at castanedahotel.org.
The historical mystery that anchors the Mogi story is a bank robbery that occurs in 1943, in Las Vegas, a block or so from the Castaneda, and from which two robbers and a bag full of fresh one hundred-dollar bills vanish without a trace. Mogi and Jennifer get involved in the present day when Jennifer becomes a summer student in an architectural program researching the building’s features before the interior of the hotel is demolished in preparation for remodeling. A hidden attic is discovered, and inside the attic is a locked trunk from 1945. When it’s opened, a few hundred-dollar bills fall out and the real mystery begins.
You’ll enjoy it, especially if you like World War II memories. As with my other books, if you would like to try it out before buying, the first two chapters are available for reading at DonaldWillerton.com.
In other news, the two books that were finalists in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Contest didn’t win any prizes, but it’s nice to know that someone other than friends read my adult novels.
Also, the rework of my latest manuscript, The Biggest Cowboy In The World, has been finished. It’s considerably smaller and better than my first edition. I’m forcing myself to wait a month before doing a final read-through, and then I’ll submit it again.
I don’t know what I’ll be working on next, but the brilliant colors of fall are fading away, we’re into Indian Summer, and Thanksgiving is coming. The weather will get colder, which means fires in my wood stove, which means I’ll be camped out in my recliner, watching the flames. That means more book reading time, contemplative time, and I’m sure to find a plot somewhere.
My three adult sons and I recently stayed five days near Glacier National Park. I rented a log home ten miles away from the Park entrance (it was a family home for thirty years; all of us had separate beds and bedrooms, plus multiple bathrooms; by far, the best way for a family vacation). Our main objective was to see the Park for the first time, but included hiking several trails, doing a number of landscape photo shoots, cooking meals, and eating out. We had a great time.
The mountains in Glacier are not like those in Colorado. I’m used to massive, broad-based mountains with peaks that are commonly climbed. The majority of the fourteeners (peaks higher than 14,000 feet in elevation) in Colorado have well-trod trails that are described in a number of guidebooks. There are typically different trailheads. Climbing most peaks involves miles of hiking through backcountry until you come to the above-treeline trails for the last one to two thousand feet of ascent. If close to other fourteeners, it’s typical to find trails in-between.
Glacier geology includes mostly sedimentary rock (versus granite in Colorado), and the mountain structures are left from glaciers grinding off layers of rock, giving the peaks a beautiful striated appearance. It also makes the mountains steep (sometimes shear) and relatively isolated; I didn’t see any peaks I would have the courage to climb. People have climbed them, but the Park Service firmly recommends that they should be attempted only by experienced mountaineers with appropriate equipment. The climbing season is also comparatively short—the main road through the park is typically closed in October or November because of snow (the main pass is only about 30 miles south of the Canadian border) until sometimes May or June. Climbing mountains in Glacier isn’t a major attraction.
The tallest peak in the Park is at about 10,400 feet. The most viewed peaks are in the 7,000 to 9,000 foot range. The highest trails average in the 6,000+ range, which meant that I was always lower than where I live, which made breathing no problem. There are many hiking trails (734 miles worth), and many are spectacular, but the Park’s calling cards are the vast panoramas and scenic overlooks, the abundance of remote lakes and streams (762 lakes, 563 streams, which makes drowning the biggest cause of death in the Park), the glaciers (yep, you’d better go soon; they’re retreating), and the wildlife (we saw a grizzly bear up-close and a mountain goat far-away).
There are things to be tolerated in the Park, the biggest being the traffic. There are more than two million visitors every season, with only one major, two-lane road that crosses from the west side of the Park to the east. The result is that parking lots and road pull-outs are mostly full after 8:00 in the morning. Last year, they implemented a limited-entry requirement to enter the Park, which turned away many visitors. My sons and I did a sunrise photo shoot one morning, and two hikes from the Logan Pass parking lot, which is the most popular location in the Park. Both times, we left the house by 5:45 am to make it to the parking lot before 7:00, by which it was already half-full, and we did not leave until after lunch. Many cars stay parked all day (hikers), which makes the parking lot problematic for visitors who just wanted to stop and take pictures.
The most pleasing part was having an adventure with my children. It was worth every penny.
On the book front, I was notified on Friday that The King of Trash is a finalist in Fiction Adventure/Drama category of the 2021 New Mexico/Arizona Book Contest, and that Teddy’s War is a finalist in the Historical Fiction category. They’ll announce the top three books in every category in a couple of weeks.
Also, in spite of promising to leave my aborted manuscript in the proverbial drawer for a number of months, I took it out after a couple of days because of my having new ideas for its resurrection. The major drastic change involves rewriting the story from a third-person omnipotent viewpoint to a first-person narrator viewpoint. It’s making a considerable difference and I like it better. I’ll finish it before Thanksgiving and then see how it reads.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.