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The North Cascades

by bdietrich on September 12, 2014

As an author, contributing to a gorgeous collaboration like The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby, is a (sorry, I can’t resist) peak experience.

I finally got my hands on an advance copy and am thrilled by the result.

The 190-page paperback coffee-table book, with two hundred or so glorious illustrations, goes on sale about October 1. I’m the lead author, but it’s very much a group labor of love by eight writers, twenty-eight photographers, two artists, and with several historic images.

Some thirty organizational partners and more than forty donors helped make publication possible by Braided River, the conservation imprint of Mountaineers Books. That keeps the retail list price to $29.95, a real bargain for a book of this quality, and makes it the best Christmas present ever.

The North Cascades are also known as the American Alps, and the book has the kind of stunning panoramas you’d expect. But the book’s pictures also zero in on people, animals, plants, insects, leaves, rocks…it captures the full sensual glory of this range in northern Washington State.

Writing contributors include Pulitzer-winning poet Gary Snyder (who was a North Cascades fire lookout in the 1950s), Richard Louv, author of the bestselling Last […]

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Back To School Sale

by bdietrich on September 1, 2014

The old rule of thumb, as cited by the publishing industry, was that the price of a book (meaning hardback) should be about the price of a good restaurant meal.

As in, $25 to $30 for most hardbacks today.

Then came paperbacks. Then came book superstores and chains. Then came ebooks. Then came Amazon. Throw in libraries, used book sales, Internet piracy and electronic promotions of free titles, and sometimes a book is lucky to be worth the price of a cup of coffee.

My latest price on three early novels presently available only as ebooks on Kindle and Nook is roughly a grande latte, or $3.99. After looking at sales records, that’s a two-buck cut from an experiment closer to what I think I deserve, $5.99.

I was selling enough additional electronic copies of Ice Reich, Getting Back, and Dark Winter at lower prices that my net income was higher. So, readers once more get a bargain. At least I think so.

This is largely an academic exercise since sales have always been relatively modest for these older books – we’re talking pocket change, not mortgage money here, folks – but I plan to publish more ebooks of my own in the future, […]

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Ethan Continues

Ethan Gage is in trouble again.

Thank you.

When HarperCollins decided last year that the series had run its commercial course and declined to contract for book eight, I thought they might have a point. I warned readers of this blog that Ethan looked headed for retirement.

But a bunch of you shouted, ‘No Way!’ and urged me to keep the Gage family going – possibly through independent publication.

So I am, because I find Ethan and Astiza irresistible. Exactly when and how the next Ethan Gage will appear is yet to be determined (other publishers are pondering) but I can tell you I’ve got him struggling in a Russian snowstorm, while writing on superb Pacific Northwest 80-degree summer days.

Young Harry is standing alertly by, as well.

Congratulate yourselves. It’s all your fault.

The next Ethan Gage novel is in fact one of five book projects I’ve got underway, three of them already written and poised for publication. If you tote up all the other Gage novels I’ve sketched and other book ideas that are somewhere in the idea-to-started stage, you come up with about fifteen more, which should keep me busy until Valentine’s Day, at least.

I’ve found I have as much trouble trying to […]

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Evolutionary biologists who strip life to its essentials have suggested that humans are basically just DNA replication machines.

Purpose of life? To pass on our DNA code of nucleotides, in combination with a partner’s, to succeeding generations. All the work, love, ambition and angst is, in the end, a lot of sound and fury about maximizing the chances of successful replication of our genetic code. Brains, money, opposable thumbs, poetry: it’s just DNA strategy.

This doesn’t fit our intellectual and spiritual convictions about our own self-importance. To suggest the purpose of life is to perpetuate a string of amino acids is a little deflating.

But it’s simpler.

The cycle is clearer in animals. For all their glory, butterflies emerge, feed, mate, lay eggs, hatch as caterpillars, pupate, and emerge…to make more butterflies.

And yes, there is homosexuality in both the human and animal realms, but they share the sexual imperative that drives reproduction.

This biological musing came up recently when watching my one-year-old grandson Isaac, and while visiting an old growth forest with a noted ecologist.

Isaac has a lot going on. He can’t walk yet but works constantly on moving, boosting higher, and manipulating toys with his fingers. He is intrigued when he spots his […]

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Slums of Yosemite

My wife and I were reminded what a glorious spectacle the American West is when we took a recent road trip: on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway through the southern Cascades and northern Sierras, over to wine country, and up the Oregon Coast.

The climax, as our most dramatic and troubling site, was Yosemite National Park and its environs. The place was an environmental history course packed into a couple days.

Abraham Lincoln was the first president to protect Yosemite Valley from development, in 1864, and it ultimately became one of the most iconic parks in the nation.

I hadn’t visited since I was a kid and for the first time entered on the east side via dramatic Tioga Pass, seeing the glorious high country at 9,000 feet. We were appropriately blown away.

Then came 21st Century realities.

I was too tardy to secure a reservation in the park proper so we stayed at Evergreen Lodge out the northwest side, a pleasant and historic place that barely escaped last year’s 400-square-mile Rim Fire, set by a careless hunter.

The flames literally burned to the edge of the lodge pool and its sunset deck, and it must have required a heroic effort to save the place, […]

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Waking Up Dying

The last thing I wanted to do is read about a friend’s death from brain cancer.

Then I couldn’t put it down.

The book is Waking Up Dying – Caregiving When There Is No Tomorrow, a self-published memoir and critique of the medical system by Robert Duke, husband of Shearlean Duke, who died.

It’s a well-written, remarkable compilation of narrative, e-mail updates, lists, sidebars, and medical documents edited and organized by Cami Ostman of Bellingham, WA, a writer who did her own book on trying to marathon on seven continents.

The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Up-Dying-Caregiving-Tomorrow/dp/0975328611.

Shearlean (pronounced ‘Shur-lean,’ and southern-born) was chairman of the journalism department at Western Washington University, where I taught for five years. While my employer was Environmental Studies, I worked with Shearlean while advising Planet Magazine, a student environmental quarterly.

She was a vigorous 60-or-so when I met her, a Los Angeles Times vet who had overcome a tough early life to not only be successful and competent, but generous and supportive. Nice! Not every administrator can claim that.

Bob was a technical writer. The two approached her illness with journalistic intensity, questioning, fighting, hoping, and coping.

Out of that came a remarkably honest account of the inevitable unhappy ending, the yucky responsibilities […]

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Napoleon on Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte was never shy about sharing his opinions. A pro-revolutionary pamphlet he wrote at 23 helped him wangle his first important army job, command of the artillery at the siege of Toulon.

I’ve been collecting the conqueror’s quotes for a non-fiction project. Some of his sayings have found their way into my Ethan Gage fiction series, as well as many homilies from Benjamin Franklin. The American sage is the master of commonsense, while Napoleon gives us a peek into the mind of the driven Alpha male.

Here’s a Napoleonic sampling. I don’t endorse these, but they illustrate why I find the guy so fascinating.

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.” Few people were as obsessed by his afterlife in the history books as Napoleon, who seemed to care more about posterity than happiness.

“History is written by the winners.” Yep, and you lost.

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character.” Which is why Napoleon’s life makes such good reading. And, “Power is my mistress.”

On the fact that nobody’s perfect: “Are there not spots upon the sun?”

Napoleon was aggressive from childhood, and viewed life as struggle. “To live is to suffer, and the honest man is always fighting to be master […]

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Exxon Valdez, 25 Years Later

A quarter-century ago today, I got a call in a Portland hotel room where I was working on a story about Oregon land use planning. I was told to go to Alaska instead.

The Exxon Valdez had run aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound shortly after midnight and was leaking oil, big-time.

I was the environmental reporter at the Seattle Times, and a couple Washington State smaller spills just prior to this Good Friday disaster had primed the paper’s interest. Managing editor Alex McLeod had commercially fished the Alaska area in his younger days, and that helped open the newsroom money tap as well.

The lack of air connections meant I didn’t arrive in Valdez until the day after the spill, and I still beat most reporters, Exxon officials, and lawyers to the site. The ship itself could only be reach by boat or plane. It was remote.

Smell is a big part of memory, and vivid for me was flying over the wreck with National Geographic photographer Natalie Fobes, a former Times colleague, and being overpowered by the stench rising off the slick when she opened a window to take pictures.

I spent the next six months on and off in […]

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Anniversary in a Last Best Place

A full moon was setting over the San Juan Islands when my wife and I got up this morning.

The path of moonlight seemed like an approving omen. This St. Patrick’s Day is the 16th anniversary of our move into this view home in Anacortes, WA. We’ve enjoyed the water, trees, and storms ever since.

Dry winter, wet spring, sun today, and a blessed escape from the snowstorms that have hammered the eastern half of the country. Snowing in D.C.? Here near Canada the blossoms are out.

It was sunny the day we moved in, too. Trust me, that ain’t normal for these rainy parts in March.

Ours is a comfortable but peculiar house picked after our youngest went off to college, built on a rock bluff so steep that a few feet of the living room is actually cantilevered over the top of the foundation. A deck extends beyond that.

The house has three floors, but instead of being atop each other they step side by side to hug the boulder’s bulges. The 1982 builders who chose the lot were crazy, but in a good way.

The result feels like a tree house, perched on an igneous rock called gabbro that was once on […]

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The Future of Ethan Gage

Ethan Gage and his swashbuckling family are back in May with a thriller that entangles them in the past and allures them with the future. “The Three Emperors” is the series’ seventh adventure.

This story completes the quest for a legendary medieval automaton, the Brazen Head, which began in last year’s “The Barbed Crown.” Ethan finds that the path to reunite with his family leads through the battlefield of Austerlitz, Napoleon’s greatest victory.

For any readers who felt Ethan’s survival of the Battle of Trafalgar in the last book left some loose ends, “The Three Emperors” ties them up.

This is not the first time the Ethan Gage adventures have overlapped. “Napoleon’s Pyramids” set in motion action wrapped up in “The Rosetta Key,” and “The Dakota Cipher” carried over into “The Barbary Pirates.” “The Emerald Storm” set up Ethan’s initial mission in “The Barbed Crown,” which in turn leads to “The Three Emperors.”

Each can be read separately and out of order, since I take pains to explain the characters and what’s going on. But you should obviously read them all!

The Ethan Gage adventures have been told through Ethan’s first-person voice. This is the first book to give some chapters to his wife […]

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