This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. –Douglas Adams
I’ve been looking forward to welcoming Gordon Rottman today, along with Karen Herber from his new book, Tears of the River. Gordon has had a number of “exciting” roles in his Army career (translation: he could tell us what made them so exciting, but there’s that whole have-to-kill-us problem) and most recently he’s been shaking up the traditional western with feisty independent characters such as Marta, a young woman whose inability to speak does not get in the way of conveying her kickass attitude. The genre must like it though, because his Western, The Hardest Ride has won several awards including most recently The Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award. Today Gordon has stopped by with another of his snarky, stubbornly independent characters, Karen Herber.
Gordon: Barb has wanted to interview Karen Herber for some time, but after talking to her for five minutes, Barb decided I should handle the interview…gee, thanks loads Barb. Okay, so you can have some background, Tears of the River is a YA—but written for adult readers as well—a coming of age survival story, only remotely like Hatchet (Gary Paulsen, 1987).
Fifteen-year-old Karen Herber is exactly where she wants to be—in the Nicaraguan rainforest with a volunteer medical team. What she had not expected was a hurricane collapsing a bridge to wipe out her team and a mudslide burying a village. Only a Nicaraguan six-year-old girl and a forty-four-year-old woman with both arms broken survive the mudslide. Then she finds that Jaydon Bonner survived, a privileged, arrogant seventeen-year-old American tenderfoot. Academic and confidence concerns are already dragging Karen down and she was tagged a “weak leader” in Outward Bound School. Her doctor parents are pushing her into a medical career, of which she’s uncertain. Less than fluent in Spanish, but an experienced backpacker, the reluctant leader is challenged by Nature, animals, desperate men and her fellow survivors’ mistrust and cultural differences. Their only path to salvation is a risky boat trip down a rainforest river, 150 miles to the mysterious Mosquito Coast. Karen soon finds her companions’ experiences, so different from her own, invaluable with each deadly encounter forging a closer bond between them. Through all the danger, “Jay” is there and manages to come though.GR: So, it’s been awhile since we spoke, Karen. Is everything going well for you?
KH: Yes sir.
GR: You don’t have to call me sir, Gordo will do.
KH: Well, since you’re the author and created me and all, I figured you’d expect to be called that by a figment of your warped imagination.
GR: We don’t have to be that formal. I mean we’ve had a pretty intimate relationship.
KH: I guess; if you call endangering my well-crafted butt in one insanely deadly situation after another a form of intimacy.
GR: You’ve gotten a little more snarky since your adventure.
KH: Really? You’re the one who introduced me to Aldonza Cruse in your Vaqueras novels. What did you expect? When are those going to be released anyway?
GR: I can see where some of her might have rubbed off. I sense a bit of resentment through. Tell me how you feel then; don’t hold back. I’m still working on the Vaqueras books.
KH: Oh, is that what you call it, resentment? You threw me into every life-threatening, life-altering situation your demented mind could dream up. I feel so used.
GR: Okay, let’s notch it back a little.
KH: You asked, jerk.
GR: Okay, what do you want? For me to say I’m sorry?
KH: That would be a start.
GR: Okay, I’m so very sorry…ish, Karen. Really.
GR: Look, you have to admit you came out of that with a new found self-confidence and pretty gutsy to boot. You started making better math grades and you finally decided to go to pre-med now that you graduated high school. Let’s see, you’re eighteen now, right?
KH: Yes and yeah, I have. You left out about how I feel about my fellow travelers with whom I drifted endlessly down a winding river at two to three miles an hour for days on end.
GR: Yes, tell us about them. How are they all doing? Let’s start with Lomara.
KH: She’s fine, you know she’s nine now, very bright and doing good in school. She still enchants me, those dark, dark eyes, and always ready to laugh.GR: How’s that working out with Tía Ramona adopting her?
KH: Really good. I never thought Tía Ramona would really adopt her. She had a real hassle with the Nicaraguan authorities, proving Lomara’s family was gone and that no next of kin could be located. You know you really put me in a fix including Lomara in our little crew.
GR: How so?
KH: She was so tiny and innocent, helpless. She’d lost her parents, brother, and little sister. Anything could have happened to her. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in constant fear of some harm coming to her. More than anything, I still have nightmares of not being able to protect her.
GR: I’m sorry about that too. But she kept you on your toes.
KH: Along with everything else you threw at…. Never mind. But really, she was a good thing in her own way. It was her that made me look out for the others rather than just taking care of my own self. I really do think of her as a sister. She still calls me hermana.GR: And Tía Ramona, how’s she doing?
KH: She’s fine too. You know Dad helped her start up her seamstress shop in Puerto Cabezas. Mom and I FedEx fabric down to her. They didn’t have to reset her broken arm after all.
GR: You two had a pretty fiery relationship. How’s she now feel about you and you about her?
KH: You know that was a pretty raw deal you handed me. I had to do everything for a forty-four-year old woman with both her arms in slings and a serious infection and fever. I mean having to help her do her business when Mother Nature called was bad enough, about eight times a day. But I learned I could get used to anything. And I just couldn’t please her. No matter what I did wasn’t good enough for her. And my mangled high school Spanish barely got me by.
GR: She had a hard time understanding your experiences. You have to admit, she didn’t have any frame of reference for a fifteen-year old American girl with backpacking experience, a canoeist, and survival and some medical training.
KH: Yeah, to her I was just a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, typical pampered gringa. It bugged me too, her superstitions and less than wholesome sanitation. But I caught on. I mean everyday life to her was one long campout. I learned a lot from her.
GR: And then there was Jaydon.
KH: Yes, there was Jay. (KH actually smiles for once.) I didn’t see that coming.GR: How do you mean?
HK: He’s a good looking guy, but when he introduced himself at one of those pre-trip meetings he came across as a self-absorbed tweet, a party boy. When I pulled him out of that van, after leaving him for dead with the others, well, that was bad enough. Then he was unbalanced, had a concussion and skull fracture, didn’t know where he was, and couldn’t speak for a time. That was a bad trip for both of us.
GR: I know it was rough, the whole thing with the van, losing Johnny, Jennifer, and Cris, and having to go back in there to get the gear and food you needed and finding Jay alive.
KH: Yeah, that was the worse thing I’ve ever had to do; worse than having to suture my own leg or freeing Jay from those kidnapping thugs.
GR: But Jay came around, I mean he stepped up when he had too.
KH: Yes, he did. A big surprise to me, but I guess like me, he came to see the reality of what we were in.
GR: Can you explain that? I know you had your own epiphany so to speak.
KH: Two, really. One was when it came to me that I was here, now, and that I could not stop or go back. That no matter what, I had to keep going because there was no one who could help us and that I could do anything I absolutely had too. The other was simpler; I just accepted that I would always be hungry, I would always be tied, and I was always in danger.GR: That’s a pretty heavy load for a fifteen-year old.
KH: Ya think?
GR: Eh, yeah. But back to Jay…
KH: Okay, I admit Jay turned out to be a pretty good thing. He took me to that homecoming dance and we dated some after that.
GR: Just “some?”
KH: Let’s face it; we’re a lot different, in spite of what we went through, that doesn’t make it the romance of the century. We’ve stayed friends, go on group dates sometimes.
GR: I can understand that. You saved him twice, going back into that van and finding he was alive and then going back to free him from those thugs.
KH: And he came back for me. I was just about caught by those guys. I still get scared thinking about what could have happened. Something else I have you to thank for.
GR: Are you seeing anyone? (Changing the subject quickly.)
KH: Some. Micaela, Aldonza’s friend, she’s always trying to set me up on dates. Micaela says I’m too picky like Aldonza; that guys don’t measure up.
GR: I know she’s picky.
KH: And intimidating. I hope I’m not like her, at least not as bad as she is.
GR: No, I don’t think so. Summing up, what do you think is the most valuable thing you brought out of all this?
KH: Just one thing? No, can’t be. I guess to have faith in yourself and faith in your friends.
GR: But you have said before you know people whose friends have let them down and people have failed themselves.
KH: That’s why you have to be very selective of your friends and that’s why you need to learn some skills, learn to take care of yourself. There isn’t always someone there who can take care of you or has your back.
GR: One final question. What if you had to do it again?
KH: You tell me. You know Mom and Jay and I went back to Puerto Cabezas the next summer. When are you going to finish that sequel anyway? I’d like to know how I fare. No doubt, I’m going to hate you for it.
GR: Next year I hope, and, well, you’ll do just fine.
KH: Vamos a ver—We will see.
GR: Sí, lo haremos—Yes, we will.
KH: You giving me a lift home or are you just going to let me fade from your mind?
GR: Hop in; I’ll get you one of those Sonic burgers you dreamt about.
Karen crept quietly up the game trail with a stick held upright to clear spider webs. A hundred paces from the camp she came upon a clearing and situated herself on its edge. She made sure she had clearance in the brush to throw. The air was dead. It wouldn’t carry her scent. She knew the odds were against a critter happening along, but animals moved in the morning seeking water and foraging—maybe. Hunters always talked about animals being scared off by human scent and activity, but she’d had many encounters of the closest kind with animals blundering into her and vice versa. They did just as dumb things as humans and were not always as alert as one expects.
Mosquitoes buzzed in the gray-green pre-dawn light. It was darker than usual, hazy; it must be overcast. Time passed. Before long the others would be up, making noise. That would scare off any prowling critters. As soon as she heard the crew stirring she’d go back. She should have told them last night to be quiet when they rose…and a twig snapped. Karen froze, if one could do that in this stifling hot, dead air.
There were rustling noises in the brush coming from the clearing’s far side. It increased, scrabbling noises, something pushing through the brush, and more than one. More feint leaf-crackling sounds. A lot more. They were all over. Karen suppressed the desire to back away or simply shout and set whatever they were to running. But the crew needed food. She’d wait and see. Really dangerous animals hunted alone. Herding animals were vegetarians, harmless and easy to spook, but the thought didn’t still her hammering heart.
The rustling grew louder. Some were behind her. She had to fight to keep from shouting. A dark shape materialized on the trail, emerging out of the gloom and blackness. It was bigger than she liked. There were odd rainforest mammals such as pacas, tayras, coatis, and others she wasn’t familiar with.
A dark shapeless four-legged something took form. She didn’t know what it was. No matter, if it was on four feet they could eat it. She was kneeling, her arm poised to throw with everything she had. She’d once read if your heart is strong, your thoughts are pure, your throw will be true, and the strike lethal…or some such Zen BS. Taking a breath, she flung giving it her all and heard the whisper of the spinning stick.
There was a momentary sense of fulfillment, her thoughts had been pure, but then the shape came at her with a high-pitched scream faster than the devil dogs. Dark shapes were darting in all directions crashing through the brush with squealing cries. Blood-chilled, she stood, ducked behind a tree, grabbed another stick. Why hadn’t she brought the spear? A streamlined pig-thing came at her, she threw the stick, missed, dodged. A bigger one charged with a grunting squeal and her legs were cut out from under her, her head and shoulder hitting the tree. She tried to stand and her right leg crumpled taking her to the ground; no pain. Not yet anyway. It all happened so fast she didn’t have time to get scared.
Another darted in. All she saw were tiny angry eyes, bristling hair and tusks, and smelled a skunk-like musk. She rolled as it rocketed over, trampling her.
Karen pulled herself to her feet, took three adrenaline-fired running steps before her leg collapsed, slammed into another tree with a popping noise in her head, and fell into the mud.
by Gordon Rottman, Author of:
The Hardest Ride—A Western e-novel, Taliesin Publishing
- Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Winner- Best Western Novel
- Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award Finalist- Best First Western Novel
- Western Writers of America Spur Award Finalist- Best Traditional Western Novel
In honor of this month’s Book Review Challenge, please stop by Rosie Amber‘s blog and pick up one of the top-rated books she’s giving away absolutely free. But you need to grab your summer reads now. They’re fantastic, free, and fabulous, but they’re going fast.
And congratulations to Countrythings, who correctly guessed on last week’s Lie-dar that Danielle would vacation in Hawaii. For her lucky guess, she’ll receive a copy of The Protector by Danielle Lenee Davis. (Sounds like she’s already a fan, but they make great gifts!)
***Would you like to be a guest on Thursday Lie-dar? I’d love to feature you and your work here! (interview, contest, book review, guest post) For information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org***