Rescue Dogs and the Making of a Subplot

February 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Pin It

Image 14Like many millions on our planet, I love animals and have had a cat or a dog in my world virtually all my life.   My current pooches, seen here around Christmastime, are two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels: Ensign Aubrey and Charlock (a.k.a Cholly Knickerbocker).  They prove to me each day that dogs teach us our best lessons about noble behavior and unconditional love.9-11RobCimaHarley9-14-01

Around the time I was noodling about the plot for my stand-alone contemporary sequel to  the “time-slip” novel I wrote nearly fifteen years ago, A Cottage by the Sea–Hurricane Issac was bearing down on the Gulf Coast.  One day last August, I did an Internet search to see if an amazing group based in Ojai near Santa Barbara called the Search Dog Foundation would be sending dog/handler teams as first responders, an assignment they have shouldered for many of the cataclysmic events this past decade: 9/11; the Oklahoma City bombing; hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and the earthquake in Haiti, and even traveling as far as Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

WilmaTeams11-09EliotCrowleyI began to drill down deeper on their amazing website and learned more about their fantastic work of rescuing dogs languishing in shelters (where many unadopted animals, sadly, are ultimately put to death) and then training these lucky canines survivors to be part of search-and-rescue teams all over the United States.  The Search Dog Foundation, the brain child of the amazing Wilma Melville (on left, red jacket), is in the process of building a $14 million dollar K9 training “ranch” where firefighters and police officers are brought together with their newly-graduated “partners.”  As I gazed at their intriguing picture gallery on the site—I had a major epiphany!Image 15

The new book would return to central Cornwall where a craggy, windswept coastline, woods and moors often lured “day trippers” to this glorious part of Britain into dangerous situations requiring all out search and rescue efforts.  Did first responders in the UK use dogs on their search-and-rescue teams, I wondered?

Image 12On my first Google look-see, up popped all volunteer “Cornwall Search and Rescue Team”—and the stellar men and women who employ air-scenting dogs to help find missing persons who may have fallen off a cliff or down one of the many abandoned tin or copper mines in the area, or have wandered into trouble on the rough terrain of the many moors.

As I dug further into this subject, a sub-plot unfolded effortlessly:  that of stories about these wonderful people who bring others to safety in cooperation with official “rescue” organizations and institutions such as the Royal Air Force, H.M. Coastguard, and the local constabularies of Devon and Cornwall that coordinate both military and civilian enterprises engaged in search-and-rescue work.  Hey, even Prince William is a part of this world!Image 13

And then another brainwave!  Why couldn’t the hero be a veteran in the dog bomb-sniffing squad, late of the British forces in Afghanistan?  I remembered seeing an image of a TDH (tall, dark and handsome) fellow in a Ralph Lauren ad who was the perfect “model” for Sebastian Pryce, a mysterious figure that returns to Cornwall with a newly-trained search dog—and some secrets of his own.1004_MBlackL_LP_EN-FR-02

He suddenly appears at Barton Hall, a shabby-chic castle on a remote cliff near the village of Mevagissey, with the novice T-Rex, a Border Collie who very inappropriately attempts to have his way with a female dog on the estate belonging to an American woman who just stepped out of a battered Land Rover!

Image 18Suddenly the “search dog subplot” became key to the entire novel, That Summer in Cornwall about this same American who is stunned to learn that she is now the legal guardian of a child she’s never met.  At the urging of the child’s Anglo-American aunt (Lady Blythe Barton-Teague, heroine of the first novel), Meredith Champlin and her eleven-year-old “Beverly Hills Brat” decamp for Cornwall for the summer and—IMG_6723

Are you surprised I felt the need to return to the enchanting land of my Ware ancestors to refresh the research?  The workings of a novelist’s mind are mysterious, indeed…

The Enduring Fairmont Hotel

October 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Pin It

photo by Michael Forester

Last week, my great pal from my KABC/LA radio days, cookbook writer Diane Worthington, author of the classics The Cuisine of California, The California Cook, and her recent Seriously Simple series, was in San Francisco to meet with her editors at Chronicle Books, and to catch up with her good friends at the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel, atop Nob Hill.

She kindly asked me to tag along, knowing my long-standing love affair with the Fairmont, the setting for much of my forthcoming historical novel A Race to Splendor, due out from Sourcebooks Landmark in April, 2011, on the 105th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and firestorm.

Inspired by the early professional life of Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect,  this is the tale of a race against time to rebuild two luxury hotels (the Fairmont and a fictional hostelry) after the 1906 disaster destroyed 400 city blocks and left 250,000 homeless.

Morgan’s fictional protegee, Amelia Hunter Bradshaw and client J.D. Thayer will sacrifice anything to see the city they love rise from the ashes.  In the process, they find themselves transformed from fierce rivals to unwilling partners who fight political corruption, endure back-breaking hardship, and ultimately can’t help but lose their hearts.

As many times as I’ve visited this awe-inspiring hotel during my childhood and in the years when I was researching the historical novel, chills go down my spine whenever I walk into the magnificent lobby, seen here from the Mason Street entrance, and hear the clang of the California Street cable car that was running when Julia Morgan returned to San Francisco in 1904 from her architecture studies in Paris, just two years before the cataclysmic temblor.

Morgan was only thirty-four-years-old when she received the commission to rebuild the Fairmont’s burnt-out hulk after  the 3000 degree fire raced through its beaux arts facade.

Flash forward to the year 2000.  I witnessed the most recent transformation by the historic preservation architects Page & Turnbull of the gaudy (but lovable) red upholstered Fairmont of my youth to the golden confection you see in these pictures I took last week.

Like dogged detectives, these historic preservationists uncovered evidence of what the hotel looked like before fifties interior designer, Dorothy Draper, gave it her “Hollywood” treatment,as you see below–a style that endured half a century.

To celebrate the Millennium, the hotel was restored to a near-perfect replica of the work wrought by Miss Morgan between 1906-07 under impossible conditions.

It is that incredible story that forms the spine of A Race to Splendor and what a treat to be hosted in a place I know and love so well by Diane’s friend, Michelle Heston, the Fairmont’s Regional Director of Public Relations for the Western US & Hawaii.

Thanks to her and the hospitable staff, a stunning array of delectable offerings as part of their Afternoon Tea service was set before us in the Laurel Court Restaurant–one of whose domes had been unexpectedly discovered by a sleuth for Page & Turnbull when he crawled between the floors in the early days of the most recent renovation. Ms. Draper had lowered the ceiling, and over the decades, the beautiful dome had been forgotten.

Last week during our delightful afternoon, Halloween was upon us, and the staff had produced a variety of carved pumpkins for a contest that asked guests to vote for their favorite creation.

The hotel was jammed with fans in town to root for the Texas Rangers who are playing our beloved San Francisco Giants in the current World Series.

In fact,  as you see here, I whipped out my iPhone as one guest was headed to the game and then booked on a private jet that would take her back for Game 3,4, and 5 in Texas

Needless to say, our group raised our porcelain teacups and saluted the Giants, as well as my heroine, Julia Morgan, the creator of such beauty that has endured….

A new release of Cottage by the Sea

June 21, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Pin It

A Cottage by the SeaIf any of you historical readers love Cornwall, England, and are fascinated by the idea that events in the past are still impacting your life in ways you’d never imagine, you might enjoy A Cottage by the Sea that was published by Sourcebooks/Landmark in June of this year.

I’ve always been slightly obsessed by the linkages between areas in America that were settled fairly early and the regions in Europe from whence the settlers to our country came.  In this case, many the Cornish tin miners ended up in the mines of Wyoming and Pennsylvania. Read more