Joan of Arc is neither a neglected historical figure nor one whose life needs a great deal of explication even at our 600-year remove. A peasant girl who came out of nowhere to lead French armies against the hated and reviled English invaders, she would be a heroine in any culture to which she belonged. I’m not familiar with the kind of bio’s writers have set down for her through the centuries, but I’m guessing that Katherine Chen’s Joan is not typical. Certainly not the beneficiary of a divine visitation such as George Bernard Shaw described. No, Chen’s Joan is no Little Bo Peep.

She was a shepherd girl, yes, born into near-poverty and raised in mean circumstances. She had a dearly beloved sister who died early. Her mother seems non existent. Her father was a brute who beat her regularly. She was a big girl, big enough that when it came time to don her armor and head out to battle she was often mistaken for a man. She served valiantly and led her countrymen to many victories, inspiring her armies to head across France and toward Paris. Take Paris, and they would win it all.

However, as her palace enemies prophesied, her danger came not from the English or any other army. Instead, her prominence inspired jealousy and political infighting for which she was ill prepared to deal. Despite her battlefield prowess and the peasant origins that helped make her the idol of the populace, they were no match for the royal machinations which made individual spoils rather than French victory the priority. Joan never really comprehends her fate. She was after French victories. Her adversaries were after something else entirely.

Chen doesn’t treat us to a burning-at-the-stake scene, for which I am grateful. I am grateful as well for a portrait of this legend that neither prettifies her nor casts her as divine. Refreshing.


This is an old book (1983) but nowhere near as old as its subject. Robert Leonard Reid”s sterling collection of articles and essays and stories and poems about the history and nature of California’s Sierra Nevada comes as close as mere words can to fill the reader with an awe akin to visiting the majestic peaks themselves. Like the picture above, Yosemite is the centerpiece of the book, but Reid wanders up and down the mountain range from north to south, east to west and deep into the heart of what makes it all so very special.


He delves into the before-the-white-man history of the place with a merciless eye on the depredations native Americans visited on one another. The Ahwanee vs. the Yosemite, being the main actors in that drama. However, those skirmishes were as nothing compared to the all-too-familiar horrors the incoming Europeans and their ilk visited upon the natives. The whole kit and kaboodle, as far as these rapacious invaders were concerned, belonged to them, and death to him who first cried “hold, enough.”

Actually it didn’t matter what they cried. They were done for. Herded off to reservations to clear the way for. . .

To begin with, it was for cattle and sheep to trample and graze the glorious landscape to death. Thanks to the intervention of Teddy Roosevelt and other minions of the federal government (remember them?) the place was preserved as a park. Of course, it continued to be assaulted by timber kings, miners, and eventually, most of all, it turned out, by tourists.

Through his wisely-chosen compendium of writings, Reid manages to spotlight all these conflicts yet preserve the eloquent an poetic musings of writers ranging from John Muir to poets as diverse as Walt Whitman and Gary Snyder. amid all that fine poetry and prose we encounter the explorers and mountaineers. The ones who dared to clamber to impossible heights and over the highest elevations on the continent and who invented techniques and devices to help them up and over so that future generations could follow in their footsteps.

John Muir writes poetic lines about a night he spent weathering a tumultuous storm amid the boughs of a swaying pine. Virginia Reed recalls the horror of her family when–she but a young girl– they suffered through the wretched and fatal trials as part of what we now call the Donner Party. Brett Harte adds a gruesome short story about “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” Yet, David Brower, one of the founders of The Sierra Club, calls these mountains “a gentle wilderness.” “Neither California nor the rest of America,” he writes, “is rich enough to lose any more of the Gentle Wilderness or poor enough to need to.”

Walt Whitman

I conclude with these lines of wonder, begging you to ignore for the moment, the historical inaccuracies of Walt Whitman’s call to the now-widely-despised Christopher Columbus:

(Ah Genoese thy dream! thy dream!

Centuries after thou art laid in thy grave.

The shore thou foundest verifies thy dream)

John Muir

And so would say, I feel confident, John Muir himself.


I hope it’s the next era of spreading my eloquence hither and yon. I haven’t had a new book launch in some time. I have had a new book ready for a year or so, but due to changing publishers and all the accompanying whirl, I couldn’t find a landing from which to launch. Thus, I did introduce Bonita’s quest to the world just yesterday.

She’s under a new title, her former name was You Can’t Keep Her, a title I was never comfortable with. I’m happier with this one. BONITA’S QUEST We’ll see how my readership, such as it is, responds.

My new publisher is going to give me some promotional and marketing help, something I’ve never had, and something I’m so bad at I should never stick my head above the barricades for fear of getting whacked. Which I have a number of times. I confess this is “Indie” or “Independent” territory, which is shorthand for self-publishing. It will take a lot of royalties to come close to recovering my (as they laughingly call it) investment. I’ll be happy if I sell some respectable number of books. And what might that respectable number be? Beats me.

Stay tuned if you dare.


I have a new publisher and a new title. Some of you may be familiar with a lady named BONITA, the star of my historical adventure/romance novel of the same name. Well she’s back. In the original, she fought hard to discover her true identity and build a life in frontier San Francisco. Now, she must search the past to clear her parents’ names and seize legal custody of her daughter.

Other than that, not much going on in her life.

Now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


I have high regard for Shelby Foote as a historian, particularly for his commentary on the Ken Burns film about the Civil War. His powers as a novelist, however, seem to be of considerably less magnitude. September September is a tale of a kidnapping plot coincident with the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957. A Keystone Kops gang–if three can be considered a gang–plan to snatch a Negro grade-schooler whose family has some money and hold him for ransom. The brains of the outfit–if these fools could be said to have brains–is a small time crook who fancies he can plot everything so minutely that virtually nothing can go wrong.

I don’t think I’m being much of a spoiler to say that very much goes wrong. His partners in crime are a woman and a man, each more the tool of their own fleshly appetites than the other. From the beginning, it is obvious this whole plot is doomed.

That isn’t the puzzle. What is puzzling is why Foote chooses to stage the drama before the backdrop of Arkansas governor Faubus’s attempts to block a federal court order to integrate the schools. It seems that somehow the crooks think that the political drama will enhance their ability to demand and collect ransom. Or something.

Shelby Foote

At any rate, whatever the plot flaws, the novel’s biggest problem is that it drags on and on and on. It takes a potentially suspenseful situation and turns it into a ho-humm. In fact, I think I just invented a new genre. The ho-hummer. I can at least thank Shelby for that new word.

Aside from that, I return to my heading on this page–FORGET SEPTEMBER