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Vella Munn
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Country hick and wilderness lover. Also writer.
Country hick and wilderness lover. Also writer.

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I feel as if I have scored the post position for the Belmont horse race.
Let me explain, please. A week or so ago I volunteered to write a monthly blog for Prairie Rose Publishing and chose the second Monday. Little did I know that two days before my blog was due American Pharoah would win the Triple Crown of horseracing and thus thrill millions of horse lovers.
The race and its incredible winner (yes I'm gushing) has given me the perfect opportunity to wander down memory lane about my love of horses. I have an early memory of sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table with a collection of small plastic horses in a variety of poses. As I moved them about the table I imagined my tiny steeds racing with the wind. Some belonged to Native Americans, some to pioneers. Some were valuable because of their speed while others pulled covered wagons or helped plow fields.
Another memory: my sister and I are straddling the wooden railing on Grandma's front porch pretending we're on horseback. Those particularly horses weren't comfortable to sit on which made fantasizing about racing them difficult. Maybe that's why we came to the absolutely logical conclusion that we WOULD own and run a large thoroughbred farm once we were grown up. We glossed over the financial considerations and our laughable knowledge of how to train a race horse because we were convinced that our love for the animals was all we'd need.
A very few years down the road we actually owned a mare—or I should say she owned us. As I recall, our mother used a $25 savings bond to buy a three year old mare 'guaranteed' to be gentle and broken to ride. Not. Of course we in our ignorance didn't know we were being scammed. My mother was overwhelmed, my sister afraid of the big beast, and me enthralled. I was also nervous, not that I let them know.
Love didn't win the day with Trixie—so named because she loved to pull a fast one on us. She hated to be caught, either that or she knew she held the upper hand in the game, but once I'd finally gotten my hands on her halter, she pretty much did what I wanted her to. Unfortunately I didn't know what I was supposed to do. Because I fancied myself an Indian of course I wanted to ride bareback and often barefoot. One of her favorite tricks was to clamp the bit between her teeth, take off at a canter, and head right for the low-hanging branch on an oak tree in her pasture that she used to scratch her back. Off I went. Repeatedly.
About the barefoot—I was leading her along the country road where we lived when a car pulled around us. Either Trixie was startled or I pulled on the rope to get her closer to the side. Whichever it was, she stepped down on both of my feet. Crying, I shoved and shoved until I got her to move. Then because I knew I had several broken toes, I clumped along on my heels guiding her to a wooden fence and used that to climb on her back. About the only good thing that came out of that accident was that I had a perfect excuse for going to school scans shoes for several weeks.
Of course my sister and I wanted Trixie to have a foal so we kept after Mother until she agreed to have her bred. We weren't allowed to watch the deed being done but it took, and eleven months later Beauty was born—the most loved-by-girls-filly the world has ever known.
Two days later Beauty was dead. I found her in the pasture on Valentine's Day. Trixie grieved as much as we did and went into what I'll inelegantly call major heat. The leader of the local 4-H group brought a stallion to Trixie and Trixie just about ravaged the stallion. My sister and I got a lesson in the birds and bees that day all right.
Eleven months later Misty came into our lives. We nearly lost her to what we called joint evil but the three of us took turns being in the stall with Trixie and Misty, getting the little filly on her feet and supporting her every few hours so she could nurse. Misty never got as big as her mother and wasn't solidly built but she considered my mother, sister, and me part of her family and loved us as much as we loved her.
Maybe that's why I watched American Pharoah cross the finish line with tears in my eyes.   
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Setting.
So what about it, you might be asking. All fiction needs to be set somewhere, no big deal. Plunk your characters somewhere and get onto their stories.
Only with me I can't pull my characters out of the shadows until I know where they'll be. In fact setting is just as important to me as my characters' backstories.  My heroes and heroines are going to breathe in the air around them and respond to what they see and hear. In many regards setting becomes part of them.
Because I'm getting pretty philosophical here, how about I try to get specific. Most of Summer Flames takes place on the private forest timberland my hero Kade Morgan owns. The evergreens that cover the mountainous acreage aren't just a cash crop for him. They're his responsibility, almost his reason for being. He has spent countless hours alone in the vulnerable wilderness and intimately knows how each season impacts not just the trees but the animals, insects, and birds that share the land with him. Managing a private timberland is hard physical work in the best of times and sometimes dangerous but this is where he feels most alive. He can't imagine living anywhere else. The setting has entered his pores and lives deep in his heart.
I know how Kade feels at the most basic level because that's how it is for me. My earliest memories are of the years my mother, sister, and I lived in a remote logging town deep in the Sierra Mountains of northern California. Mother was the only teacher at a one room school and my sister and I spent most of our free time exploring the surrounding mountains. We didn't care that only a handful of people knew of the town's existence and that winter storms sometimes closed the single road in and out of the canyon.
I've long said that evergreens and mountains are in my DNA which is why my favorite place to be is at the family's wilderness cabin not far from Crater Lake in Oregon. Cities are foreign worlds to me. In contract there's nothing more peaceful for me than slowly driving along a deeply rutted logging road. The smells, sights, and sounds are what I know and love.
Back to Summer Flames: teacher Chera James has the diary her great grandfather kept while the family traveled West in a wagon train. That diary is a vital part of her heritage. Some of the trail goes through land Kade owns and Chera begs him to let her try to find the exact route her ancestors took. At first she doesn't make an emotional connection with the land but the more time she spends with Kade, the more she understands why he's so protective of it. Why he loves it so.
By the end of their journey together she has fallen in love with this mountain man and is willing to risk her life to try to save the trees.
 
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