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Cabin Life Pt. 1: The Endless Road Trip

Welcome friends,

There has been interest about my life growing up at the cabin and how it influenced my first book. Because of this, I decided to do a series of posts talking about my time at the cabin, and how I experienced it through three different phases of my life, childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. I hope you enjoy these!

My first memories of the cabin are pretty vague, as you can imagine. My family only spent the summers there, arriving at the beginning of June and staying until late August. It is the major events that stick out to me, but there are several other elements that are more feelings than specific things. Like the memory of comfort in general, rather than remembering the specific thing that gave me comfort. But let’s start from the beginning.

Before I even begin talking about how it was to spend time at the cabin each year, I wanted to talk about the actual drive to the cabin itself. The road trip. This is probably the most boring element of the story, but it was such a large part of each vacation that it is ingrained in my memories as much as any other piece of cabin life. So off we go!

The preparations for vacation began.

As the school year wrapped up, not only for me and my siblings, but also for my parents who were both high school teachers, anticipation would start to grow for the upcoming trip. I knew I would be saying goodbye to my friends, which was always disappointing. My best friend would come running over from his house a few block away to wish me a good summer and let me know he’ll miss me. I find it odd that I don’t have strong memories of those goodbyes. I can only guess that the excitement for the joy that awaited me in the woods outweighed it, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the lake and the lazy days of summer.

Packing the suitcases and then loading the car was always a huge process. After all, we were preparing to spend almost three months away from home. My family had one of those classic Ford Country Squire station wagons. You know, the kind with the fake wood paneling on the sides. For a family with two, three, and eventually four children, three months of luggage and supplies, and a dog, the space was needed.

My father would be the one to do the actual loading of the car, placing each item in the wagon in a pre-planned way, like fitting puzzle pieces into their proper slots. He always left plenty of space for the kids to move around, which was appreciated. My siblings and I would haul out each bag from the house, depositing them on the sidewalk next to the car and running back inside for the next ones. About an hour before leaving, the dog would get half of a tranquilizer pill that my father had gotten from the vet. By the time the trip started, she would be calm and eventually sleep through a good chunk of it. Finally, we all climbed into the car, riding dangerously low on its shock absorbers, and set out on the first stage of our summer vacation.

The first hours passing by.

The drive was from California to Idaho and the trip was twelve hours long, so my parents prepared for the kids to be bored and annoying. I remember we always had a grocery bag in the front seat of the car, filled with snacks and drinks. Mom would dole out apples, crackers and cheese in a can, and Oreos if we were good. The drinks, of course, led to bathroom breaks, and not always where there was a rest stop.

Out on a lonely stretch of highway through Nevada, after much complaining, my father would pull the station wagon over onto the shoulder. My brother and I would pile out of the car and run off into the scrub brush, dodging past old tumbleweeds, looking for the most secluded spot in that vast, open land. To hurry us up, the words of my mother would follow us out the window. “Watch out for the ‘bottom biting bush bouncers!’” At five or six-years-old, that was scary enough during the day. But if circumstances had led to my family getting a later start in the day on the road trip, and if now it was nighttime, with only the shining stars and the ambient glow from the headlights providing any light? At those times, there was a true fear of getting your bottom bit, and we did our business faster than you could blink!

Once we had settled into the drive, my mom would pull out a book and begin to read to the family. The works of J.R.R. Tolkien, were a common go-to. The stories of the hobbits and their journeys would always be thrilling, and we would listen with rapt attention. The cities of California flowed past and before you knew it, we would be making our first of several gas stops in Reno, Nevada.

Landmarks on the trip were always special occasions, and we would usually stop and get out of the car to stretch our legs. The salt flats just outside of Reno and the sand dunes shortly after Winnemucca. And my favorite, Breadloaf Rock on the hills just before entering Horseshoe Bend in Idaho. It was a giant rock in the shape of a loaf of bread, even featuring a chunk on the end that looked like someone had used a massive knife to cut a slice and leave it laying there. These all reside vividly in my memories.

Nighttime arrives.

Staring out the windows and watching the empty spaces between pass by had a lulling effect. As the afternoon dwindled into evening, sleepiness would settle in. Now, this was before the time of required safety belt use, so I would climb over the back seat into what we called “the way back”. I’m still not sure if that was the official name of that space behind the backseats of a station wagon. But I know that it was the best place to sleep. My father had this worn, brown leather suitcase, and the surface was incredibly soft. I would curl up on top of that case, feeling the vibrations of the car and listening to the hum of the tires on asphalt. Years later, the band REM released the excellent album Green. There is a passage from the song You Are the Everything on that album that perfectly describes those moments.

“Here’s a scene
You’re in the backseat laying down, the windows wrap around (say, say, the light)
To sound of the travel and the engine (say, say, the light)
All you hear is time stand still in travel
And feel such peace and absolute
The stillness still that doesn’t end
But slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen
And they’re there for you
For you alone, you are the everything”

Depending on when we left our house, my parents would either drive straight through, and I would get to sleep through the night, only awaking when we arrived in Boise, Idaho with just a couple hours left before reaching the cabin. Or they would choose to stop at the halfway point of the journey, Winnemucca, Nevada.

Winnemucca is an interesting city, and even to this day I get a great feeling rolling into town. They are famous for their rodeo, and The Griddle is a great place for breakfast! Back then, Scott Shady Court hotel was our destination. Tucked a couple block off the main street, the rooms were small, clean, and cheap, and the manager would pin the room keys to the small corkboard hanging just outside the office for those guests arriving after midnight.

I clearly remember the smell of cleaners and stale air from the lingering smoke smell of previous guests. And the beds with the coin-activated vibrators. As an adult, I can’t imagine what purpose that served, but as a child I found it endlessly entertaining. The bed covers and sheets were rough and stiff, but I didn’t care. After stopping there for so many summers, the place was familiar. There was a small grassy play area with those rocking horses with large springy bases that wobbled. They even had an indoor pool, but I don’t think we ever used it. The color of the water was never quite right.

We are almost there!

The miles passed, as did the landmarks and the cities, some as big as Sacramento and Reno, some as small as Jordan Valley and Rome, Oregon, which the sign said had a population of 173, but I’d guess it was closer to 99. When we finally hit Cascade, the last gas stop before the cabin, and grocery store shopping for perishables like milk and eggs, we all knew the long journey was almost over.

Making that turn just outside the city, we would finally leave the highway and ascend into the mountains. This last stretch was only 26 miles or so, but the road was winding, so my father drove more slowly. The car windows would get rolled down as we entered the forest proper, and the scent of fresh pine would drift into the car, clean and glorious. Even the dog would perk up, sensing the anticipation flowing from all of us.

Finally pulling up to the cabin, my grandparents who had arrived a few weeks before us would step out onto the front patio to greet us. Car doors would get flung open, the family quickly abandoning the car that had kept us prisoner for the past 12 hours. After a quick hug for my grandparents, I would fly down the hill, following the short trail to the dock and the lake below, my mom’s voice calling after me, “Don’t go in the water!” After reaching the bottom of the hill, I would step out onto that dock, take a deep breath and look in all directions across the calm surface of the lake, my mind going wild with imaginings of what adventures I could get up to this year.

Summer had officially begun.

Thank you for reading this introduction to my summers at the lake. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have ever been on road trips of your own, I hope you could relate. Stay tuned for the next blog post, in which I will talk about my childhood years and the adventures and accidents of being a free-range child in the forest.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. They are all welcomed.

Michael Foster

The Joys of Bookstores

Welcome friends,

How many of you remember your first visit to a bookstore?

When I was very young, one of my favorite things in the world was to have my parents read to me. I remember vividly, laying in my parent’s bed, head nestled in the crook of my mother’s arm as she read to me the stories of Rudyard Kipling and Thornton W. Burgess. Even when I could read some simpler books by myself, I preferred the deeper stories, such as The Wind in the Willows, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wrinkle in Time. I still have such a strong image of It on the dais and the weird heartbeat sensation Meg felt in that room while trying to rescue Charles Wallace. Because of this, my lifelong passion for reading was born.

As I grew older, I discovered the joys of bookstores. I had my own bicycle, one of those kid-sized ones with a “banana seat” and reflectors in the wheel spokes. I would ride that thing to the small neighborhood bookstore, making sure to lock it up in the bike rack outside with the combination padlock because I never knew how long I would be spending inside. At that time the store wasn’t called “indie”. It was just “the bookstore”. And I loved it. The stacks were tall and narrow, like exploring some kind of cave, and it had that book smell. If you’re a reader, you know what I’m talking about. The owner was always kind, and knew that while I might spend a lot of time browsing, I would eventually use my allowance to buy a novel that captured my attention with its beautiful cover art. There was something about finding just the right book that would “click” with what I wanted, that felt magical.

The bookstore gets bigger!

When I was a teenager, larger bookstores began popping up. Waldenbooks was the biggest in my town. In my eyes, it was a wonderland. And best of all, you had to walk through the bookstore to get into the mall. I had graduated to a 10-speed bike by then and could travel farther throughout the city, which I did, especially on weekends! When my friends wanted to go hang out at the shopping center, grabbing an Orange Julius and wandering around aimlessly, just happy to be spending time away from our houses, I would always spend the most time in the bookstore. My impatient friends would yell and complain and eventually wander off, leaving me to look at the new releases, followed by the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi sections, which were my favorite genres.

Waldenbooks eventually disappeared and Barnes & Noble took its place. I still continued to spend time there, now an adult and enjoying coffee while searching through two stories of goodness. Books that I never knew existed, I could find there. I discovered new authors that I had never heard of, and if I liked the first book by them, I would go on to consume everything they had written. It is a wonderful thing to discover a new book series after the entire series has already been written! I didn’t have to worry about friends bugging me to leave, I could spend the whole afternoon there. It was marvelous.

A beast awakens.

With the rise of the internet, a new player entered the booksellers’ market. Nobody ever anticipated the impact it would have, but Amazon became a powerhouse. Ease of shopping and huge discounts were catalysts that not only put many bookstores out of business, but several other types of retail stores that could not compete. I confess that I occasionally use them myself, and in many ways they gave a voice to a very large group of independent authors who would otherwise not be heard, so I have to give them credit for that. But I do miss the smell of those good old bookstores.

Barnes & Noble stores are still around. I have also seen a resurgence in small boutique bookstores, which makes me incredibly happy. As an author, I love to see my book available online at sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but I would love even more to see a physical copy sitting there on the shelf in the YA section of my local stores. I believe my artist has done a wonderful job of capturing the feel of my story, and I would hope that a young, passionate reader wandering the rows of their local store would “click” with the cover art, the same way I did, all those years ago. Pulling the book from the shelf, they would flip through the pages, seeing the artwork inside. Reading a paragraph or two, their imaginations would be captured and they would go home with a treasure to be savored.

The priceless gift of reading.

Inspire your children to read. Take them to bookstores, big and small. Allow them time to explore and discover. Give them the gift of reading. And though it is easy to purchase through Amazon, try to shop local or from an author’s own website. If you don’t see a book on the shelf, ask for it. The support this gives to authors is so much greater than the royalties received from a mega site like Amazon. It allows us to continue to write the stories you and your children will love.

As always, I appreciate the time you took to read this. Any comments or questions you have are welcomed.

Michael Foster

Conservation and the Responsibilities of Writing

Welcome Friends,

It has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life to be able to write this story, and to assemble a wonderful team that was able to bring all the elements together so that we could share it with all of you. We hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as we did creating it!

We recently received a very nice review from Kirkus Reviews, who is well-respected for their tough and honest reviews where they said, “Alicia does come across as an intelligent, science-minded heroine for the modern era, and the story has a fresh ecological focus.” – Kirkus Reviews. One very good point that was raised in the review had to do with some of the environmental themes in the book and how I handled them, as a writer. And so, I would like to talk about an element of the story and how it came to be. I am referring to the character, Gran’Tree.

Family, friends, and the importance of trees!

You probably recognized themes of family, friendship, and compassion throughout the story you just read. The characters accepted one another, some reluctantly at first, despite their vast differences and assumed biases. They grew to become better as individuals and as a team. But in the story there were also themes of conservation. Mankind’s excessive plundering of the land is what led to the separation of the realms. Nature has always been a very important element in my life, as it is in Alicia’s. Why then, you might ask, would I make a tree—one of the most important things in nature—the villain?

A pair of majestic yellow pines. Gran’Tree’s younger cousins.

Trees bring great benefits to our world. They produce oxygen, clean pollutants from the air, and protect us from sun, rain, and even wind. Their strong roots hold the soil in place to reduce land erosion. And just like Gran’Tree, many store tremendous amounts of rainfall, which helps prevent flooding. But what happens when someone, or something, gains too much power?

Without spoiling anything, there will be further adventures for Alicia in the Wild Side. You will learn more about the Ancient Ones and how the realms became separated. One of the things you will learn is the origin of Gran’Tree. He is in a place he does not belong, with powers that he should not have. And in 1887 a very wise man, Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

A villain is born.

I do not want to talk about politics while discussing a book for young readers, but I must admit that I was influenced by the current political climate in 2018. When one individual gains too much power, and lacks the wisdom regarding how best to use that power, it can throw off the balance of things, just as Gran’Tree’s great power threw off the balance of nature in the Wild Side.

Gran’Tree is just as much a victim in his world as is anyone else, which you will learn. He is also unfortunately, a victim of my own storytelling. You see, Gran’Tree’s character was created in stages during the process of writing this book. The first stage was the decision to have the lake absent in the Wild Side. I wanted Alicia, and the reader, to clearly understand that she was no longer in her world. But why was the lake gone? The answer to that question was stage two, the water was disappearing from that realm. And so The Drying was created! This led to the third, and final, stage of Gran’Tree’s creation. I needed a character that could be taking all that water.

As I mentioned, trees naturally store great quantities of water. And one of my favorite majestic trees in the forest is the yellow pine. As a child, I would pick off small pieces of their puzzle-shaped bark, and then try to place them back in the same spot that I removed them from. One summer when I was young, I had a small tree house between two of the trees that had grown close together. Now, almost forty years later, the remains of that tree house can still be seen. To me, those trees were always big and strong, and so different looking from the rest of the firs and pines in the woods. And from those memories, Gran’Tree was born.

The puzzle-like bark of a yellow pine.

Thank you to all, including the trees!

So, dear readers, please understand the value of trees in our world. Not only do they bring great beauty, but they are also home to many woodland creatures, provide much needed shade, and most of all they have tremendous benefits for the environment. We all need to recognize that the natural resources we have are limited, and must be saved and shared to maintain a balance in our land.

Thank you again for reading. This book would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of the team at Z Girls Press and Calling Card Books who were my publishers, editors, and designers. I also want to thank my artist Gloria Miller Allen who spent many a waking hour on the beautiful illustrations. Finally, a big thank you goes to the early readers whose input was very important in the creative process and helped me shape the final story.

I can’t wait to share with you the further adventures of our strong and intelligent heroine, Alicia.

Michael Foster

Who Is Your Hero?

Welcome friends,

Thank you for visiting. I have a lot to talk about regarding the creation of the book, The Passage at Moose Beach. The writing, the art, the editing. As my first book, this was all new to me. The amount of work that goes into the process AFTER you write the story surprised me, but it was always fun. I’ll get to those stories, but to start with, I’d like to talk about, recognize, and acknowledge some of the true heroes in this world—firefighters. Why am I honoring firefighters in a book blog? Because, they deserve it and I am deeply indebted to them for saving my family’s cabin in the woods, the inspiration for this story.

A common question is, “Who is your hero?” Since the first time I was asked that question in my 20’s, I’ve answered that question with, “My father,” and it was true. My father was a great man. He was a high school teacher for many years before developing Lymphoma, cancer that spreads throughout your body, while I was still a teenager. The doctors gave him a few years to live, but he fought the disease for thirteen years before it took him, and he continued to teach through it all. He was dedicated to his family and his students and was my hero because of that, and I wanted to live the rest of my life in a manner that would make him proud.

Recently, I was asked that question again, “Who is your hero?” Once again my response was going to be, “My father.” But then I really started to think about it. My father was a great man in my eyes, and I miss him every single day. I think about all the things I would love to share with him today. He never saw Jurassic Park with dinosaurs that were right there on the movie screen! But he did read the book. And MP3 players—“Hey dad, I can fit my entire library of music, thousands of songs, right here on this little device the size of a cassette.” Forget about cell phones, DVDs, and electric vehicles! My dad was a tech geek, and I inherited that from him. I think we had the first VCR, a Betamax, on our block. He would be in awe of this seemingly alien technology we have, almost twenty-five years after his passing. I love him and miss him dearly. But would I call him “my hero”? read more…

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When you purchase a copy of The Passage At Moose Beach through Michael’s Cabin Books,
the author is able to donate more money per book to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation. Learn more.

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