Sunday, April 27, 2014

We Only Pass Once

Heron fishing.  Photo by Richard Hayes.


A THREAD OF LIGHT VIII. First Day of Autumn, September 22, 2013

We only pass once, but
these rivers of ours continue.  What we
leave they hold in their cold foam,
their flowing silken motion.  Let us
create ourselves while we still understand
what it means to be alive here, alone
and not alone, in a one-time only Paradise.
The only Infernos here are of our own
making, when we go blind with fear,
when we can’t hear the lullaby of the
waters or feel how the Sun wants us
to be warm and happy.  With our choices
why not be simple and take what the river
gives today and live as well as the
beavers live without complaint?  We all
know who we are if we think about it.
Our nature can always tell us what
we should be doing if we listen,
if we trace the signs.  There aren’t
any excuses if even one tree
releases the gold locked in its cells
and falls gently toward the river
that gives it to drink, grateful,
solemn, in earnest, because gold
light, and orange at the edges, are
what sun taught the sap long
before light arrived to bless this
gift of the cells, of the tree Self,
of the wisdom at rest in the roots.
Beaver Soul 29, Devon, 1992

It isn’t so much what you believe in
as that you do believe.  Doubts creep
in when your attention lapses–insidious,
deepening distrust of yourself, the life
you live, the work you do.  The created
order has the answer to despair.  Too
much rain did its worst, starving the
roots of oxygen, nurturing downy mildew, 
rotting the vines of cucumber and tomato,
yellowing their leaves.  The trees let go
their leaves as they fought to breathe.
I grieved for spoiled fruit, the rampant
growth of weeds.  Garden and orchard
seemed doomed.  Only the green beans
and the figs stuck it out.  Then sun
lifted the scourge.  The cucumbers
began to lengthen.  I spotted tomatoes
turning red among their tangled vines
and weeds.  Leaves returned to the
apricot; the smallest apple tree bloomed
in September.  Our climate may be
whimsical, but there are deeper 
principles at work in the Universe.
Death is an ever-present reality, but 
hardly the whole story.  Plants teach us.  
Trees hold seminars in survival.  
Take in rain when it falls. Wait for 
sun.  Life turns emphatic: Grow!  
To despair is to miss out on the rewards 
of holding on, anticipating a resurgence 
of the will to live and flourish, 
to give one’s last strength to fruit.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review and Interview: R.E. Donald

Keep on Trucking

Slow Curve on the Coquihalla: A Hunter Rayne Highway Mystery.  R. E. Donald.  Proud Horse Publishing., 2012.  ISBN: 978-0-9881118-0-6.  Paper: $14.95 U.S.; $16.95 Canada.  341 pages.

Keep on Trucking

Despite my affection for those wise words that encourage persistence, “Keep on Trucking,” I can’t say I’m fond of the many eighteen-wheelers which zoom past my house on the road between Highway One and Pittsboro.  I avoid interstates when possible partly because of reckless drivers in a hurry, and partly because of the big trucks.  It makes me nervous when they’re behind me and want to pass, and I’m already going the speed limit.

When I read Canadian R.E. Donald’s first mystery novel, Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, I found my stereotypes about trucks and the people who drive them falling to the ground.  I came to like and empathize with the truckers in the story, from the sleuth Hunter Rayne to his unruly, loud-mouthed helper, Sorry (nickname for Dan Sorenson).  I also shared the lives of two women who managed trucking operations and decided who hauls what where and when and arrange it so that, after one load is delivered, say, to Edmonton, another can be picked up and trucked back to Vancouver or to Seattle or even Los Angeles.  I learned about both the daily work lives of this community of trucking folks as well as their inner emotional lives, which were often stressful because, to make a living, truckers have to be on the road so much, often away from their families and missing birthdays and anniversaries. 
As in any group some drivers followed all their rules conscientiously, took their required eight-hour breaks, while others pushed the boundaries and sometimes were tempted, by their desire for more money, to let their trucks be used in smuggling operations.

When Randy Danyluk, a driver-owner of a small trucking company, dies in an accident that immediately looks suspicious, Hunter Rayne, formerly a homicide detective with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) becomes involved. Randy was his good friend, and someone Hunter admired for his integrity and kindness.

Randy’s daughter Suzanne, who inherits his trucking business, agrees that Randy would never have fallen asleep at the wheel or been careless about his vehicle’s upkeep or had any trouble that that “slow curve” on the mountainous Coquihalla highway.

Hunter talks to the RCMP officers at the Kamloops station where he used to work, but they can’t give him much help without more evidence. Hunter persists in his hunt to solve the crime, which he’s convinced was murder.  He talks to many truckers and the managers of businesses which use them and becomes suspicious of the people managing Randy’s biggest account, Waicom, based in Seattle, who often send shipments originating in the Orient north to Canadian cities.

I learned about the grapevine truckers have and how they help each other and understand each other’s difficulties and weaknesses.
Meantime I got an up close portrait of Suzanne’s struggle and commitment to keep her father’s business going when she is deep in grief over losing him, and her husband, Gary, is less than enthusiastic about her holding onto the trucking firm.  He wants her to sell it and buy them a dude ranch.

Piece by piece Hunter solves the case and verifies what his gut instinct had told him from the beginning.  Randy’s death was, in fact, murder in a situation where the stakes were high.  I was especially struck by the eloquent depiction of grief here and by the articulation of the inner life of a man committed to doing his work well and living his life with integrity.  The author worked for thirty years in the transportation business and knows it thoroughly.  I’m not surprised that during her journey to publication, she attended one of Elizabeth George’s writing workshops.


Cover of the second R.E. Donald trucking mysteries.

Interview with R.E. (Ruth) Donald


JH: When did you begin writing? Why?

RED:  I’ve always been an avid reader, and early on I was told I had an aptitude for writing. Like many writers, I’ve always felt a need to get my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Even though I write with a computer, I still feel compelled to keep a handwritten journal. I’ve experimented throughout my life with poetry, short fiction, song writing and journalism, and took creative writing courses at university.

JH: When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

RED: I began writing mystery novels about twenty years ago. I love to read traditional mysteries, especially those in a series with characters who struggle with the changing relationships in their lives, so it’s no surprise that the same type of series is what I write. Two of my favorite authors at the time I began writing were Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, but there are so many other mystery series I’ve enjoyed and been inspired by.

JH: Are you writing a series or a stand-alone? Explain your basic idea for your series.

RED: I began the Hunter Rayne Highway Mysteries series in the mid-nineties. My husband Jim was still alive at the time, and he and I had both spent most of our working lives in the transportation industry. As a young man, he had trained in ju jitsu and had been recruited to work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as an undercover operative. His cover was being a truck driver, and that was how he got his start in the trucking industry. Because a truck driver can be almost anywhere without arousing suspicion, I thought it was a great occupation for my “semi-professional” sleuth. My main character is a retired RCMP homicide investigator, so it’s reasonable that he should be drawn into murder investigations.

JH: Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

RED: The first novel in the series is Slow Curve on the Coquihalla. I completed the first version in 1995 and almost immediately received a request from Mysterious Press for the manuscript. They turned it down, but I received positive feedback from several New York agents. Unfortunately, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer that December, and in an instant, my life was turned upside down. After his death, I resumed writing and completed a second novel. The loss of my husband, however, had been a wake-up call to get the most out of my life while I was able, so I bought a horse and a farm and was soon caught up in a whole new lifestyle that left little time for writing. 

In addition, I was discouraged by the querying process, although I did try sending out my second novel and was pleased that one well-known New York agent who had read my first two novels asked me to send my third when it was completed. In 2011, I bought a Kindle and realized that new technology had made it possible to bypass both agent and publishing house to publish a novel. Reader response to the rewritten Kindle edition of Slow Curve on the Coquihalla was so encouraging, that I created an independent publishing company and now have three books in the series widely available in both digital and print editions.

JH: Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

RED: I wanted to write a traditional mystery with a North American setting but felt that bookshelves already had enough cop, lawyer and PI novels and I didn’t want to compete head-on with Michael Connelly, John Lescroart or Sue Grafton. I knew the transportation industry well and I wanted to write about the kind of people you meet every day, their troubles, tragedies and stories of survival. Ultimately, my stories are about the characters caught up in the crime story, their suffering, hope and healing, their love and redemption.

JH: How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.

RED: Writing is hard work. I labor over every word, every sentence, every description and every line of dialogue. Being published links me with my readers, and the comments I get from complete strangers thousands of miles away who love my characters and stories is what makes the work of writing worthwhile.

JH: Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

RED:  Here are a few of my favorite (and most unusual) comments from readers:

“Never thought I would enjoy a truck driver based mystery, but I sure did.” Steve White, Cedar Bluff, AL

“The funny thing is, the whole time I was reading this book I thought R.E. Donald was male. For a guy, he did an excellent job of getting the female characters right. The introspectives and actions of all characters give readers a full understanding of their motives. That was unexpected from a male author in a mystery involving truck drivers. I'm sorry, Ruth E. Donald, for presuming you were a man. It's a compliment to you that I read the book with such interest that I didn't read "about the author" first.” Ginney Etherton, San Joaquin, CA.

“R. E. Donald draws the character of Hunter Rayne with such precision that he becomes a medical liability. Each time a blue 18-wheeler passes you on the highway you crane your neck to see up into the cab to discover if Hunter is driving.” Nash Black, Jamestown, KY

JH: What other books have you published and where, when?

RED: The second book in the series is Ice on the Grapevine (2012) set partly in Southern California and the third book is Sea to Sky (2013) set mostly in Whistler, BC (best known as site of the 2010 Winter Olympics).

Cover of Donald's third trucking mystery.

JH: Do you have a work in progress now?

RED: I’m working on the fourth novel in the Highway Mysteries series, which will be released later in 2014. Its title is Sundown on Top of the World and it’s set primarily in the Yukon and Alaska. (Note that each of my titles contains the name – or nickname – of a highway.)

JH: If you belong to Sisters in Crime, has that been helpful? How?

RED: I first joined Sisters in Crime back in 1995 and attended their conference in Houston that August. Meeting and learning from other female (mostly!) mystery writers has been extremely helpful. Kudos to Sara Paretsky and the other founding Sisters for creating such a great support group. I rejoined again last year and am enjoying the online discussions, as well as benefitting from the writing and marketing information other Sisters so generously provide.

JH: What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

RED: I haven’t had the pleasure of attending Malice Domestic, but I’ve been to Bouchercon in the past (imagine how excited I was to be sitting next to Tony Hillerman on the bus enroute to my first Bouchercon in Seattle!) and am looking forward to going to Long Beach this November. The networking and education at conferences is invaluable to a new author. I also found the Surrey International Writers Conference very informative and inspiring. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to talk to Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, Donald Maass, John Lescroart and other well-known authors, editors and agents there. (See 

JH: What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

RED: I’m very excited about Sundown on Top of the World. I’ve been to Alaska and the Yukon several times over the years, but found I didn’t have the in-depth knowledge that my story required. The research is taking more time than I anticipated, but I want to make sure I get the setting and characters right. What better place than Alaska for my hero to investigate a cold case from his past?
Thanks very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to your readers, Judy. You have some great interview questions and I’ve enjoyed answering them.



Ruth Donald, who publishes as R.E. Donald, recently moved to a ranch in Lone Butte, British Columbia with a French-Canadian cowboy, two Canadian Horse mares and a palomino Quarter Horse named Rambler.  She hopes to have a successful vegetable garden here, somewhere between the last frost of June and the first frost of September, if the deer and moose don’t harvest the crop before she does.

Ruth graduated from the University of British Columbia with an Arts degree, and worked in the transportation industry for twenty-five years before becoming a writer. The Highway Mysteries are available in digital and print editions through most online book retailers, or can be ordered through your local bookstore. Find more information on the Highway Mysteries series at or

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Connections That Stay

Goldfinch captured by Richard Hayes of Lee County


A THREAD OF LIGHT VII. September 15, 2013

And what is love?  To be human
is to allow It to pierce you with
Its tender arrows, though you
feel certain you will die.
Only we don’t die.  We live
more vividly.  Life without Love
is like a streambed through
which no water runs, like a
house without a clock that
chimes the hours so musically
that you wait eagerly for the
next one.  Or like an afternoon
sitting on the bank of a small
river without sun to intensify
the green of grasses and mosses,
to lift the warm brown of the
sand, patient between the black
hulks of rocks, into view.
Beaver Soul 27, 1992.

Connections that stay also change.
They begin in the unlikeliest way,
persist against a lifetime of odds,
then keep transforming themselves
and us.  The point is: we’re hooked.
There’s no way we will let go
if we’re honest with ourselves.
That’s all that is asked, but it’s
non-negotiable.  You see, if we
deny what we feel, it turns ugly,
and sooner or later our souls die.
Acting on what we feel isn’t 
required, though it helps if we
can find a reasonable, mutually
agreed upon channel where 
feelings may safely move and 
not undo us.  Putting the fire
in a fennel stalk is only a
temporary solution.  Mutual
work for the sake of others
works well.  The fire has to be
delivered.  Use it to wake 
people up.  What else are our
lives for except to give away
everything we’ve learned?  Make
every single suffering step count.
Then die happy.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

That Central Sun

Spring pear blooms, with blooming peach trees behind, in Judy's orchard.  This year they came in March but survived several frosts.


A THREAD OF LIGHT VI. September 8, 2013

... The jewel in me,
the fire I have hidden all these years and
guarded, like Prometheus hid the fire
he stole for naked, hungry man, in
a fennel stalk–the fire is safe.  And
my suffering, like his, punished for
sharing with mortal man, a god’s prerogative:
fire: my suffering did not destroy the fire.
The fire is still safe.  I felt, though, how,
as I returned, in thought, to all those
years of being devoured and restored, as
he was–chained–and eaten–but not
destroyed–how I was losing something.
I was losing my hiding place. The fire
was showing.  It was in the bush,
but I knew–I don’t know how–
that it was safe.  Inside this ugly
rock that had clasped a precious stone,
I had been safe, my burden safe;
what I carried; what I was.  And then,
a knocking, breaking; a shattering
of that ugly rock–the rock loose–
and my tears flowed because of the
pain of what I might lose!  I was ready
to fight to the death.  But the pain
instead was a release, and the jewel
which had been mine, had been me,
which I had nearly died to save, to get
through all the dangers, lay in my
hands, yellow–and catching in its
facets, light: the yellow light of the gods,
the light that gives the day, every day,
that gives the spring, every spring;
that takes the grey and brown of winter,
the death, the outside of rock, the leaf
protection, all of it, and releases green,
yellow in its first eager intensity,
and in certain lights, ever afterwards,
when seen and held lovingly, aloft,
lovely always with yellow light.
Susannah, Teach Me to Love/Grace, Sing to Me.  1985. pp. 38-9 

The fears come and go, but I keep
walking past them, through them,
finding again that central sun in me
that casts out fear.  I called it a
jewel thirty years ago.  Many names I’ve
given it: Deep Self, God, My Inner
Voice.  It’s always there, steadying me,
helping me hold on when my spirits
bottom out, when I wake afraid in
the night.  I see it everywhere:
in the perfectly ripened fig that is so
fragile and luscious I have to eat it
on the spot; in the morning glory vine
that has crept up the back porch
railings and now gives me its welcome
with multiple pink trumpets; in the
spider lilies’ carelessly flung rosy 
whiskers suddenly there at ground
level under the high stalks of the 
yellow and orange cosmos suns.
In the hens running across the 
orchard to see what I’ve brought 
them, and if it is afternoon and I’ve
come to weed, they stay and circle 
nearby. If I’m there, they believe
something good is about to happen,
and it does, because they companion
me.  I may feel alone, but this
inner sun, this jewel in me, this
yellow light won’t let me believe it.


Look closely and you can see the pears.  Photo by Mark Schmerling