Latest Finished Novel

Place of White Earth

Genre: Young Adult


Place of White Earth is a novel about a young man navigating his way to the otherworldly somewhere, anywhere else and finding his place within it. It’s about him never forgetting his first love and being willing to follow her to the ends of the earth. It’s about Basque culture as a tribe and a willingness to fight for it. It’s about the triumph and tragedy of life as seen through the eyes of two young adults.


Place of White Earth follows Midwestern high schooler Andrew Morehouse as he attempts to defy gravity in his search of his own somewhere, anywhere else. A chance mixup brings Spanish exchange student Josephine to Andrew’s home in Chillicothe, Ohio where an instant attraction brings out the fire between them. Though Josephine leaves after the fortnight, her indelible mark is left burned on his heart. The pair reconnect after college and Andrew agrees to join Josephine at Luzuriaga, her family’s ranch in the northern Basque region of Spain.


Set against the backdrop of the Basque culture’s connection with the land and conflict with the government, Place of White Earth highlights the journey of maturation through a sense of belonging. The novel paints the story of love, from simple attraction to a powerful desire to be with someone forever. Follow Andrew and Josephine’s path from Midwest, USA to Northern Spain as they experience life’s tragedies and triumphs. Helping to guide their way are a cast of memorable characters of Luzuriaga.

Place of White Earth (Chapter 1)

“I wonder if I will ever see anything as beautiful as a Basque sunset,” Josephine ponders while riding through the valley laid out before her. 

The sun had begun her descent behind one of the many bordering peaks and plateaus and disintegrated into a wash of reds, yellows, and oranges. Josephine—or “Jo” with an American accent to her friends in Barcelona—never tires of watching the alpenglow backlight her hometown Pyrenees Mountains.

Josephine steers her motorcycle down the gravel path along the south-facing side of the valley where the spring’s warmth has successfully melted the white snow into brown puddles. To her left, patches of winter’s remnants dot the valley floor as the surrounding skyline’s shadows and occasional boulders protect them. To her right, melted runoff with a mind on erosion appears seemingly from out of nowhere, carving down the valley walls, and disappearing back into the land as it disperses across the field. Though still a chilly February, the varying shades of green grass had already begun to reclaim their dominance in the valley, which they hold steadfast for 11 months of the year.

Josephine’s ancestors have been stewards of this slice of Basqueland, named Luzuriaga or “place of white earth,” for as long as anyone could remember. She will gladly fight to the death for this hallowed ground as her family and neighbors have done for generations.

The 1962 Montesa Impala rumbles between the boulders and sagebrush randomly situated in the pasture and startles the otherwise calm late afternoon. The rebuilt 175cc, two-stroke engine purrs like the day it came off the factory line on the outskirts of Josephine’s Barcelona hometown. One of the last to be assembled before actor and motorcycle enthusiast Steve McQueen helped to make them popular in the United States, the candy-apple red fuel tank and matching fenders scream freedom. The silver drop handlebars not only add to the motorcycle’s distinguished beauty, but make Josephine feel like an unknown angel flying through the property her family has called home for centuries. Her long brown hair flows horizontally out from under the Evil Knievel-brand stars and stripes helmet, only furthering her feelings of contentment. She misses both the valley and the motorcycle terribly every time she has to say goodbye and return to Barcelona.

Only 18 years old, Josephine has spent weekdays trapped in a Barcelona school and most weekends high in the Basque country at Luzuriaga each year since she turned eleven. From the time a car crash took her parents almost a decade ago, Jo’s older brother Diego had capitalized on the property’s unique climate and topography to host rich clients lucky enough to ski the surrounding peaks and chutes above and the valley below. The monthlong season remains relatively consistent with its time of year and duration. If Josephine had her way, she would spend half her time there and the other half somewhere, or more specifically, anywhere else. The world is simply too big for her.

So each January for the last seven years, Josephine would leave Barcelona after school on Thursdays—skipping school on Fridays—and head to Luzuriaga to help out for long weekends. Her teachers protested at first but soon realized resistance was futile. She is a good student and carries a graceful charm and beauty about her that manages to sway her teachers into allowing the absences. Armed with a warm smile, kind brown eyes, and a deep disarming voice, Josephine proves her teachers—as well as classmates—are decidedly no match for her. And so each Thursday in January—and maybe a few in February—Josephine continues to pack her clothes and books and head northwest to the mountains.

As a young girl riding the train out of Barcelona, Josephine studied every ranch, neighborhood, and town the train would pass through to her personal Shangri-La. She felt comforted by the train’s motion and the whoosh sound it made as it pulled in and out of each stop along the way. Her excitement peaked as she exited the train and hopped on board a bus for the next leg of the journey. She didn’t even mind the jerky motion or the high-pitched sound of the breaks as it winded its way through the mountain passes and deep into Basque country.

Josephine never bothered with any of the other passengers and they could all see she was singularly focused on the journey as a means of arriving at her final destination. From her leather and cloth bus seat, she could practically smell the bread being baked inside the okindegia (bakery) at the end of Kale Luri (white street) where she would exit. Most times, the bus driver would follow Josephine down the three steps to the street to grab something from the bakery before turning the bus around and heading back to its original parking spot at the train station.

Once stepping off the bus, Josephine could feel under her feet the stones of a century-old road constructed by ancestors of the small hamlet. Then she would either ask for a ride or run the five uphill kilometers along the dirt road to her family’s ranch. More often than not, her excitement would take hold and off she ran.

Diego, ten years Josephine’s elder, took the trip from Barcelona with her only once to show her the way. As point of fact, Josephine told him he only needed to do it once. He paused at the notion being that she was just an 11-year-old kid, but knew better than to fight her independence. At the end of the trial run, Diego quizzed her on each particular aspect of the route—for which she passed with flying colors—and no further discussion arose.

Initially at Luzuriaga—also Josephine and Diego’s familial surname—her job consisted of staying out of everyone’s way while perfecting her skiing on the homemade backcountry slopes. As she grew older and her skiing improved, Josephine graduated to assistant ski waxer, then to beginner Nordic ski guide, and finally to the coveted role of alpine guide. She learned to ski in these hills at a young age because her father viewed skiing as a link to strength between mind and body. Josephine had fond memories of each and every nook and cranny of the land, from Nordic skiing the valley to her first time dropping through one of the many surrounding chutes. She free-heel skied the way her father taught her with a beauty and grace matched only perhaps by Diego. When she was 15, Diego brought her on vacation to a ski resort in Andorra with his girlfriend. That was the first time Josephine had ever seen a ski lift as skiing at Luzuriaga requires the skier to “earn their turns” by first skiing up into the hills.

As she rides past the valley landmarks, Josephine recalls the first time encountering each one, beginning with the earliest memory of first donning Nordic skis and sliding around the valley and through the strand of birch trees with her parents. Next comes the gently sloped hills where her dad would hold the back of her coat as they skied down. She would beg to do it again, starting higher each time until it got too dark to see any rock protrusions or inconsistencies in the snow. Across the valley stood the first peak she climbed and skied down, off a loose dare from Diego. All it took was him mumbling something under his breath and the next morning she was out the door ready to conquer it. At the top, she could feel the conflict between nervous energy trying to lock her knees and adrenaline forcing them to shake. But Josephine’s head-strong determination prevailed that day and down she went.

As Josephine and her motorcycle cross the four-kilometer halfway mark to the Etxerran (stone house) that serves as the cider press, each backcountry run becomes steeper and steeper and each accompanying memory more recent. At the six-kilometer mark, she smiles and cranks her wrist to turn the throttle and beeline it for the “la ligne” (the Resistance) path that leads to the upper plateau before winding its way around the snow-covered peaks. The sun cuts through the rocks as bright light and shadows alternate, making visibility challenging. Jo could do this ride with her eyes closed.

During World War II, the footpath was used by La Ligne to shuttle downed Allied pilots north to France and German deserters southwest towards the Hotel Eskualduna in St.-Jean-de-luz. There, owner Kattalin Aguirre and her daughter Josephine—Josephine’s namesake—would offer rooms and assistance to refugees on the run.

Josephine stops at the high point of the trail which affords her a full 180-degree view of Luzuriaga behind her, the valley below, and the Etexerran ahead. Just as she kills the Impala’s engine to take in her surroundings, the deep howl of two Great Pyrenees dogs replaces the motor’s rumblings. Josephine smiles as her eyes scan the horizon for Beltz (Black) and Zuri (White), both appropriately named for the color of their mangled fur.

Though Josephine could not see the watchful canines, she was able to spy Gorka, the unofficial master of the property for over four decades. Now in his 60’s, the plump, grey-haired gentleman began working at Luzuriaga as a teenager and took over as etxekandere (spiritual head of the house) upon the untimely death of Josephine’s parents. Gorka lives year round on the property with his twin brother Palben who comes and goes according to his own schedule but is always there when needed. In contrast, Gorka is there even when not needed, only leaving to deliver his homemade cider to neighboring ranches.

Gorka sits outside the Etexerran’s main door at a small, round, wood table he built with his father. The traditional stone building backs up to the base of a small peak called Et that serves as a fun playground to skiers during the 31-day season. Many of the stones used in the cider house originated from Et, allowing the small building to seemingly disappear into the mountain. Now mostly snow-free, Jo led a group of skiers through its twisty run less than a month ago.

Gorka barely moves as Beltz and Zuri obediently run to his side in anticipation of their guest. On the table, a glass of cider and a roasted cod with green peppers omelet are arranged; both are well-deserved after 31 straight days of catering to every whim of entitled tourists. Truth is, Gorka did everything at Luzuriaga except ski—he never learned how—and mechanics—which he leaves to his brother.

Inside Etexerran, two long wooden picnic tables—also built by Gorka—run the east and west sides of the spacious dining room towards two massive 13,000-liter wood barrels filled with a year’s supply of cider for Luzuriaga’s residents, friends, and guests. Four large candelabras sitting two on each table provide light for the room and slowly drip homemade beeswax into their bobeches. The barrels date back to the 16th century and hold fermented apples picked from farms to the southwest in Astigarraga. The non-carbonated cider usually lands between four and six percent alcohol. However, Gorka sometimes waits a little longer to get the alcohol content closer to seven or eight percent because, as he says, “life is short and so am I!”

Josephine climbs back on her motorcycle and rides down to see Gorka. As she gets closer, Beltz and Zuri’s deep barking turns to more of a playful, wolf-like howl. She parks the motorcycle at the side of the stone cottage so as not to kick up dust and dirt or disturb Gorka’s horse Agure (Old Man) that stands tied to one of the front wooden pillars holding up the roof.

Josephine pulls a leg over the bike, takes off her helmet, and places it on the seat. She tilts her head and runs her fingers through her hair to shake off the inevitable indents. She methodically takes off her mirrored aviator sunglasses to get an unencumbered view of the cirrus clouds moving high above and places the shades next to the helmet. She finally walks with long strides over to Gorka, who has yet to turn his head and acknowledge her presence.

“Did you know that the Etexerran was built around its two barrels during the golden age of Basque cider?” asks Gorka in grammatically, if not phonetically, correct English.

“Of course, Gorka,” Josephine responds in perfect English with a slight American accent. “You’ve told me that many times. What I’m having trouble with is your sorry excuse for English!”

Gorka rises to his feet with a huge smile and stretches out his arms for a bear-sized hug. Though without any blood relation, Gorka happily watched over Josephine and her brother in their parent’s stead.

“I’m speaking English for you to practice,” Gorka says both with his mouth and overly expressive arms and hands. “You are still going to America, right?”

“Yep,” announces Josephine. “I leave in a week. So, this is goodbye.”

“Not goodbye, my dear, just ‘see you later,’” Gorka corrects.

“Of course,” Josephine agrees. “I’ll see you in a month or so.”

“You know, they say to be a true Basque three things are required,” Gorka begins, now in euskara (Basque language). “To have a name which bespeaks Basque origin, such as Gorka, to speak the language of the descendants of Aitor, as I am now, and to have an uncle in America. So, I guess that makes you my uncle!”

Gorka’s belly laugh rings down the valley and back into the empty Etexerran, startling both dogs to standing.

“Be safe and I love you,” Gorka says before returning to his cider.

N i k    e r e    m a i t e    z a i t u t.

“I love you, too,” Josephine says, joining him in euskara.

Josephine walks over to the well-trained dogs and pets them while saying, “I love you guys, too,” under her breath. She turns and walks with her determined stride to her Impala and speeds back towards the baserri (house), leaving behind only a cold dust cloud and the increasingly faint sound of her motorcycle.