I finished Carole Thayne Warburton’s book, Sun Tunnels and Secrets yesterday. It was a page turner. I found myself caught up in the stories: Will Tony and Kellie figure things out, or is Jamie the girl for him? Will Norma forgive Wesley? Will Kevin stop stealing cars? What will LaRue say next? What would everyone do without Mabel? And will anybody ever find Cadence?
Sun Tunnels may appear to be a light-hearted read that nevertheless keeps your attention, but somewhere around 12am Wednesday a deeper depth was revealed. It was like looking through the Sun Tunnels at the right time, I found there was more beyond the initial glance.
Tony was still angry at his mother’s lack of time while he was growing up. Kellie struggled with the pain of her parent’s death as well as her escape from a polygamous group. After Wesley dies, Norma finds some big secrets her husband never told her. One of those involves her own sister, LaRue. Most of the people in the story were involved in a relationship that needed healing. These were loveable, enchanting, flawed characters. People like us.
Some readers may wonder why in the world Warburton bases her stories in Grouse Creek. (I had to look it up on the map.) What I found was personally interesting. My granddad lived in a small town in Idaho called Malta. It is about half way between Grouse Creek and Burley, but further east. And though most of Malta is centered on dry-farming, I could imagine the type of town Grouse Creek is.
I loved spending several days at a time with my grandparents. I remember one wintry day my grandma sent me to the little, white, clapboard sided store that was around the block on Main Street. I pulled a tiny red wagon behind me where the groceries would go. The wind was blowing snow in my face. As I passed by Alred’s house, Mrs. Alred came to the door and called me in. There she fitted me with some mittens and a crocheted hat. For me, that moment is what small towns are about. There is a strong sense of we’re-all-in-this-together.
Those moments are woven through Sun Tunnels. For me, Grouse Creek as a setting makes sense.
I thoroughly enjoyed Sun Tunnels and Secrets.
BTW, I’ve arrived at the “looking good” phase of life. Thanks a lot for the clarification, Carole. (Hint it’s in the book).
Warburton recently described Sun Tunnels and Secrets: “In Sun Tunnels three elderly sisters stumble on a body on a trip to the Sun Tunnels, a land art project in the west desert of Utah. This awful discovery turns out to be the least of their problems. Norma’s husband just passed away, and she learns he kept a secret from her their entire marriage. The sisters’ young friend Tony is keeping a secret about his famous father, and Tony’s mother is keeping a secret of her own. Tony is secretly in love with his friend Kelli, who recently escaped from a polygamist group. And who is the mysterious young car thief with whom Norma feels a special connection? Everything converges in Grouse Creek at the Fourth of July celebration. Will secrets prove everyone’s undoing? This is a story of relationships and trust, of romance and dreams.”
Me: Norma is central to the story. Is she based on someone you know?
CTW: Norma is the calming influence in the story. While she isn’t based on anyone I know, she is a lot like my mother. I always tried to think about how someone Norma’s age would think and I thought about my own mom. I’m also a member of our local Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and am close to the youngest member in the group. Sometimes I listen to the women of Norma’s generation. They really are strong. Norma is strong. I wanted her to be resilient, though vulnerable as she handles the storms in her life.
Me: Tony is a musician who plays Country Western Music. What influenced this?
CTW: Tony appears in my second novel “False Pretenses.” I am a sucker for anyone who can play the guitar. When I needed a romantic hero for Kelli, I wanted him to play the guitar. Although each of my books are stand alone books, they are connected. In the second book Kelli is running from the police and runs into Tony’s apartment while he is playing the guitar on the porch. It’s one of my favorite scenes.
Me: Do you have a favorite Country Western singer? Song?
CTW: Willie Nielsen is my favorite Country Singer. I prefer the old time classics more than the newer stuff. I don’t really have a favorite, but maybe Blue Eyes or Georgia on my Mind.
Me: There are lyrics in the book, were there tunes to go with them in your head?
CTW: Some of them go with oldies songs from the Beatles and some of them don’t go to anything. I imagine I had something going in my head, but I’m not a songwriter or a musician.
Me: By the end of Sun Tunnels and Secrets I felt I knew Norma, Mable and Tony rather well. As a writer could you give some tips for character development?
CTW: I think it really helps to have specific people in mind when you think about your imaginary characters. I think you need to really get in the head of your characters. What would they think, say, feel, do? Everyone in your book needs to want something. It should be clear what their conflict it. This is something I’m still working on in my writing. Tony obviously wants Kelli. Norma wants to be sure of her husband’s love. And even though we’re never in Mabel’s head, she is more or less the sounding board or the voice of reason. Everyone loves her and her part in the story is to balance the more judgmental sister, LaRue.
Me: Your books take place in Grouse Creek, Utah. What about that place keeps drawing you back as a writer to have it as the setting for your stories?
CTW: There are very few places in the world left like Grouse Creek. Since my husband and I lived in the town and taught school there for five years, I feel like I know the area. I’ve written the way I remember it from twenty years ago. We still visit, but it’s changed somewhat. For one thing there are fewer people. It’s gone from 100 people down to around 70. People that live 60 miles from a grocery store are a special breed. I’ve set three books in Grouse Creek so far because of its uniqueness and how much fun it is to describe. Often people think a small town is a town of 2 to 3000, and really they have no idea that communities as remote and tiny as Grouse Creek still exist. It makes for fun situations.
Me: This is your third book, what things have changed for you as a writer since your first one?
CTW: My first book came easily. I wrote it just for fun and then tried to get it published. Even getting it published went quite smoothly. Many people related to A Question of Trust. It’s a page-turner. I guess if I’ve changed it’s that I don’t take anything for granted. I realized that success is fleeting and difficult to maintain. I really appreciate all the people who help me in the journey. Since my first book, I have gained a large circle of writers, readers, and friends who are rooting for me to succeed.
Me: What are some of your all-time-favorite books?
CTW: To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my all-time favorite. As I child I loved to read and some of my favorites were The Wizard of Oz series and The Little Princess books. Some of my favorite authors today are Barbara Kingsolver, especially The Poisonwood Bible. I also really love Anne Tyler, especially The Accidental Tourist. I also love Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Me: When did you know you wanted to write?
CTW: Third grade is when I really wanted to become a writer. I loved it when teachers gave writing assignments, even when it was writing a science report. Once a science teacher gave me an assignment to write a report as a punishment for chatting in class, and I said, “Goodie!” I don’t think it was the effect he was looking for.
Me: I love the pottery you feature on your blog: What is your day like as a writer / artisan?
CTW: At times in my life one will take over the other. In the summer, I have so many art festivals to go to, that I put writing on the back burner. At other times, I get really enmeshed in the writing. On a good day, I write in the morning and work in my studio in the afternoon. I love both arts and both places. I have a delightful studio that I can look out at the beautiful mountains of Cache Valley and listen to books on tape as I work. I write on my laptop, usually upstairs where the view is similar. I listen to music instead of books—not country though. I have to make sure there are few lyrics.
Me: What are you working on now?
CTW: In pottery I just finished some orders including an entire dinnerware set that turned out well. I also have a gallery walk I’m participating in. It will be September 17th in downtown Logan. As far as my writing goes, I’m polishing up a suspense novel set in Yellowstone. Bears are being killed. The main character is a young female ranger. I’m looking for a publisher for that book. I’m also working on a non-fiction project with a friend whose had some serious challenges.
Me: I love Yellowstone. I look forward to reading it.